As my work visa comes to a close, I have finally had some free time to reflect on all that I have learned and experienced while working at NLI and while living in Brazil. First of all, this year has been turbulent, what with Dilma Rouseff’s reign as queen bee, or should I say, “mosquita” (the word for mosquito in Portuguese does not have a feminine form, but Rouseff coined the term, to her chagrin, and the benefit of her opposition, who make fun of her for the etymological creation) coming to a so-called end, Brazil redeeming themselves in soccer with their defeat of Germany in the Olympics, and I suppose we could say the Olympics as a whole, being a relative success in Rio de Janeiro. Despite the big headlines in the news, it is really the small-scale things that I witnessed and went through that will forever stick in my head…kind of like that catchy song from Carnaval that most Brasiliense will know… “Baby doll de Nylon combina com você.” But, I digress.
Like any “developing” nation, Brazil has its ups and its downs, its advantages and disadvantages. So, now I would like to take the opportunity to discuss these things, as I have experienced. Brazil is a great place for meeting people, eating delicious food, traveling, learning about culture, etc. but the truth is that the infrastructure makes things difficult to accomplish in any reasonable amount of time. Whereas, in more developed places, one might expect to go to the bank, the department of motor vehicles, the grocery store, all in one day, the reality is that here in Brazil, one might expect to be lucky if they resolve one problem… at one place… per day. I feel that I have spent many hours waiting, waiting, waiting for things to be accomplished here, and I think that this could be explained by an overarching aspect of the culture: bureaucracy.
In Brasilia, the people with the most job security, best benefits, highest salaries, and longest vacations typically work for the government. What is truly interesting is how these people get their cushy government jobs. One of the most confusing things to understand as an American was this idea of concurso público, or public exam, that anyone can take, in any field (even if their degree isn’t in that field) of government employment. For me, this test is counter-intuitive. How can someone have studied art history and then land a job working for the department of fisheries? Well, the logic is that all you need to do is study— “anyone” can get the job. Rote memorization and good test-taking skills are really all you need in order to merit employment. What ever happened to needing job experience, doing torturous job interviews, having personality checks, writing impressive resumées? In addition to the inefficiency of this system, there is a widely known stereotype across Brazil about Brasilia: that everyone is rich, but doesn’t need to work, as their government jobs are totally lax. Generally, I disagree with this stereotype because I know a lot of people who work hard and do their best (and they work for the government), but, unfortunately, these government employees need to follow rigid, outdated, and confusing protocol, and as a result, everything takes a long time. This societal acceptance of sluggishness in the government then trickles down into all other facets of life, causing a slower-than-usual lifestyle that could frankly be unbearable for those who are unaccustomed to this type of life.
Yet, this is also part of the charm of Brazil. While you are waiting, waiting, waiting, anywhere you go, you meet other people—after all—misery loves company, and what do you do while fuming in a static line? Complain to people around you, of course! I can wholeheartedly admit that most of my knowledge of Portuguese slang words came from sitting, waiting, and complaining with people around me. There is really no better way to learn a language than when you are a part of the group—and I sure was when I sat in those hot, stuffy waiting rooms! So, like anything else, there is advantage with disadvantage, and I would not be giving credit where it is due if I didn’t mention this silver lining surrounding the bureaucratic mess that you will certainly find in Brazil. As I have always said, the people here are welcoming, so you might as well chime in with your own two cents, even if your Portuguese isn’t exactly “up to par.”
For me, my language forte was in the classroom, where my speech and knowledge came into play. As a teacher, I met many people with various goals. People who wanted to learn just so that they could pass a test, people who wanted to talk to their English-speaking significant other in colloquial terms, people who were traveling for business, people who needed to give a speech in English, and countless other goals. My M.Ed. taught me how to teach English grammar, pronunciation, and writing, but I always had a sneaking suspicion that it’s not just about these aspects, but about how we approach our students, that makes them learn quickly and efficiently. To me, becoming friends with genuine interest and care about the success of each person is the most conducive way to teach and learn, and throughout this year, I have heard reports of student satisfaction due to this behavior in the classroom. What I think many places don’t do, but what Natural English does, is cater to the specific needs of our students. It’s not just a “cut-and-dry grammar book complete with audio CD’s” kind of course—no, anyone could do this method at home, alone. At this school, the goal is to support students and mold the classes according to their liking, and this, for me, has been the greatest lesson as a teacher. This lesson has been the most valuable to me in terms of professional teaching.
Lastly, I’d like to say that Brasilia is a city unlike any other city in Brazil. Here, the salaries are higher than average, but there is a large and very obvious disparity between the very rich and very poor. The dry season and the heat can be intolerable, especially without an air-conditioned car or home, but overall, it is a place where I wouldn’t mind living—only if it were so easy— the real estate is so expensive! Despite all of this, I can thank my lucky stars for the opportunity to live like a Brazilian for one year—the times have been turbulent, but there isn’t space for regret considering the wisdom I have attained. So, I must thank Brazil as a national entity, Brazilians as individuals and a collective society, my friends, my students, my family, and the management of NLI for the support and guidance to help me withstand one year of confusion, cultural faux-pas, and linguistic misunderstandings. It has been a ball, but in the eternal words of Sonny & Cher, “the beat goes on!”