Students set for cultural immersion in Brazil

In May, 45 Northeastern students from many disciplines will embark on a cultural immersion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, through the university’s Dialogue of Civilizations program. But first, the students were treated to a unique pre-orientation to the country’s history, politics and social fabric from Ambassador Fernando de Mello Barreto, Consul General of Brazil in Boston.

Barreto, a diplomat and former lawyer who has served as the Brazilian ambassador to Australia, met with students on Thursday evening in the Behrakis Center. His lecture spanned the country’s political history to its economy, and he fielded questions on issues such as higher education, industry, social class and even the infrastructure being built for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

When asked about how the country — considered one of the world’s top emerging markets — has diversified its renewable-energy investments, Barreto particularly noted how the country’s car manufacturers have developed flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on different blends of gasoline and ethanol.

“This is a booming industry,” he said of renewable energy. “It provides a lot of jobs because there’s a market. It’s consumer-driven.”

Northeastern’s Dialogue of Civilizations program takes students all around the world to connect with their peers in different national, cultural, political and social environments, and provides a unique global experience that builds upon and enhances their academic studies and training at Northeastern. The experiential-learning opportunities incorporate meetings with local government leaders, community organizations and their peers on various topics, academic coursework and a variety of lectures, site visits and cultural events.

This summer, more than 1,000 students will participate in 46 Dialogue programs worldwide.

Georges Van Den Abbeele, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, offered welcome remarks to the group of students, noting the importance of global learning in the Northeastern student experience. The dean, along with faculty members Simone Elias and Thomas J. Vicino, presented Barreto with a Northeastern plaque to recognize the importance of developing strong relationships between the U.S. and Brazil.

Elias and Vicino will lead the Dialogue program in Rio de Janeiro, which will run from May 5 to June 5. As part of students’ cultural immersion, they will take language and political science classes at the Brazil-U.S. Institute, conduct field visits to major companies and participate in community service projects.

“Brazil is a 21st-century global leader — politically, economically and environmentally,” said Vicino, assistant professor of political science. “Our students are global entrepreneurs, and the Brazil Dialogue is a first-rate experiential-learning opportunity for them.”

Simone Elias, Portuguese language coordinator, said, “Northeastern students have a strong commitment to learning the Portuguese language, which provides for excellent integrative learning experience in Brazilian society.”

Richard Greer, a freshman who is president of the Portuguese Culture Club, is one of the students participating in the Dialogue program. He said Barreto’s visit was an incredible jump-start to the program, which he noted includes students from numerous areas of study.

“We have a very diverse group of students participating,” he said. “We hope to learn all about what life is like in Rio de Janeiro, and bring these experiences back to Northeastern.”