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Dialogue in Brazil gives students ‘a new perspective’

There are two ways to learn about Brazil’s language, culture, and government. The first way is in a classroom, through lectures, class discussions, homework, and exams.

The other ways is to simply go to Brazil, the largest country in South America.

A group of Northeastern students chose the second option, arriving in Brazil in early May for one of the university’s Dialogue of Civilizations programs. Since then, they’ve toured the country, living in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte while studying the Portuguese language and Brazil’s education and political systems.

“I came on this trip to see my roots and family,” said Leonard Ziviani, a second-year business administration student who grew up in Brazil before moving to Boston nine years ago. “But I was also looking to meet new people and make a lot of connections for future internships and co-ops.

“I feel like I am going to come back to live and work here,” he added, “so knowing more about my own country and how its political system and economy works were huge reasons for wanting to participate in this program.”

Guided by assistant professor of political science Thomas Vicino and Simone Elias, a doctoral student and the Portuguese program coordinator, the students are getting firsthand exposure to topics they previously explored through textbooks and PowerPoint presentations. After morning classes, the students embark on excursions to key cultural and governmental sites, meeting with top state officials and civic leaders. One time, they stopped at Mineirao Stadium, one of the central sites for next year’s World Cup, which Brazil is hosting.

With events like the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics—the first to be held in South America—Brazil’s presence on the world stage is increasing. Its fast-growing economy makes it a key player alongside emerging economies in countries such as China, Russia, and India.

For students on the Dialogue, however, the understated moments often prove the most enlightening.

“I like to play soccer and a bunch of us have been going to a park right up the street where we can play with Brazilians,” said Alex Rodriguez, a second-year student studying international affairs. “They’re so much better than us, but it’s still a lot of fun. And we get to learn a lot of the conversational language and slang that we don’t pick up in our classes.”

Taking part in the Dialogue in Brazil helped fourth-year international affairs major Katherine Dopler land an international co-op. From August to December, she’ll be in the country teaching English and helping run a language learning center.

“I’ll have a solid footing for when I return to work and live in Brazil for a semester,” Dopler said.

As part of the program, students pair up with their Brazilian counterparts at Centro Universitário UNA in Belo Horizonte. Dialogue teaching assistant Allana Leigh, who participated in the program last year, noted that face-to-face interaction reinforces the lessons learned in the classroom and on the site visits.

“It gives you a new perspective,” added Dopler. “It’s one thing to learn about a country from the United States, but it’s another thing to live and learn side-by-side with people in their own country.”

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