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U.S. Fulbright

Falling in Love with the Inferno: Adjusting to Life in Piauí

September 10, 2015
Ilana Robbins Gross

Ilana Robbins Gross, 2012-2013, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Brazil (second from right), visiting her students’ hometown in rural Piauí, Brazil – one of the many examples she experienced of people opening up their homes to her

Teresina, a small capital in the almost forgotten state of Piauí in Brazil, is known with affection, pride, and frustration as “the Inferno,” both for its intense heat and historic lack of opportunities.

Despite the roughly one million people who live in the greater metropolitan area, Teresina feels like a small town: everyone knows everyone or at least they know your people. A native New Yorker, I landed in Piauí as a Fulbright English Language Teaching Assistant (ETA), felt the heat (joy!), saw the mainly empty streets (panic), watched as people slowly ducked from shady sliver to shady sliver (behavior I was soon to adopt) and asked myself what the inferno was I going to do for the next nine months?

Once I had gotten over the initial shock, (mostly) adjusted to the heat, and accepted that people would stare at me no matter what I did since for many I was the first foreigner they had ever seen, I set about the business of becoming part of the community and falling in love with a city largely forgotten even by other Brazilians.

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U.S. Fulbright

Beginnings: Making Your First Contact

February 5, 2015
Giuseppe Cespedes

Giuseppe Cespedes, 2011-2012, Fulbright ETA to Brazil (left, with guitar), on his first visit to the Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, playing music to his then future students, having a casual conversation (in his initially limited Portuguese), and enjoying some delicious Brazilian pastries

When you are applying for Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant, remember that Fulbright is not solely about assistant teaching English or about doing research; you need to dig deeper. Fulbright was my community in Pontal, a small beach town in the city of Ilhéus, Brazil. It was the place where I made my first group of Brazilian friends, where I learned how to dance forró, and where I practiced capoeira. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, Fulbright placed me at the forefront of my first English class at Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, a state university where students from all across the state of Bahia came to attend. My students, pushed by their curiosity, unabashedly asked me questions about my life and my perspectives on Brazilian culture. I tried my best to answer with my limited Portuguese. I was teaching while being taught. My students were my most encouraging Portuguese teachers, and the more we learned from each other, the closer we became as a group.

My students weren’t always the most confident English speakers, so I thought to incorporate music into the classroom to ease the tension. It started off with simple classroom activities, but it quickly spawned into a small choir of dedicated students with different levels of English. The choir met outside of class hours, performed at one of our campus-wide presentations, and we even recorded a few songs at the university recording studio. The choir wasn’t anything fancy or professional, but the students took to it and – if only for a moment – they sang without being consumed by self-awareness of their pronunciation.

Fulbright made me appreciate my own uniqueness, and it brought me into another culture I would have never otherwise experienced. If you want to be tourist, there are several ways to travel, but if you want to grow within a community, then Fulbright might be for you.

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Foreign Fulbright

The Global Scientist: from a Hotel Lobby to the World

June 18, 2014
S&T - 1

Tamaki Bieri, 2010-2014, International Fulbright Science & Technology grantee from Switzerland, presented how an interdisciplinary approach to coral reef monitoring generates world-class science and art

It had been six years since the launch of the International Fulbright Science & Technology Award and we, as fellows, were sitting in a hotel lobby in Washington, DC. We’d spoken over dinner the previous night of how slick it might be to have a forum where we could write about our science with the freedom to focus only on the big picture. We worked numbers and wrote journal articles by day, but if we could share, with the public, our ideas in a way that changed how they saw the world – that, we thought, would be the ultimate presentation of our research.

We are Ronan and André, S&T Fulbrighters from the 2010 cohort. Ronan comes from Ireland and is doing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at MIT, focusing on desalination. André comes from Brazil and is doing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Stanford, focusing on computer vision.

The Fulbright experience has led us to many parts of the United States — California, Colorado, Florida, DC, Pennsylvania, Louisiana — exposing us to the spectacular diversity this country is made of. The best part of all is the chance to interact with locals, understanding the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives. We remember vividly the efforts of scientists in New Orleans to avoid future situations like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for example.

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The Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Experience: “Showing” Your Culture and More

July 25, 2013
Juliano Saccomani, 2012-2013, Fulbright FLTA from Brazil (center), participating in the Latin American Festival in Athens, Georgia

Juliano Saccomani, 2012-2013, Fulbright FLTA from Brazil (center), participating in the Latin American Festival in Athens, Georgia

Receiving a Fulbright grant is a very large honor that comes with responsibilities, one of which  is promoting mutual understanding. I received a Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship (FLTA) grant, which means I was a Portuguese language teaching assistant at the University of Georgia from July 2012 to May 2013.

Brazilians are all over the world (you might have seen one already!) and we love to share our culture with others. Can you imagine how exciting it was to be able to do that as part of your job? From discussing small things such as eating pizza with silverware, to talking about Carnaval, or even the dark days of Brazil’s dictatorship,  my Fulbright FLTA grant required a great deal of research for me to effectively share what being a Brazilian is all about. Believe it or not, I actually learned more about my country and myself by doing so!

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U.S. Fulbright

The Three Rs: Research, Relationships and Reciprocity

June 18, 2013

Marisa Rinkus, 2010-2011, Brazil (left), and her research assistant inspect a sea turtle on the Brazilian coast

In February 2011, I left a snowy Michigan winter and headed south into the warm Brazilian summer to study community engagement and sea turtle conservation on my Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant. While excited by the prospect of living near the beach, I knew that conducting research in another country would require hard work with the assistance and collaboration of others.

In reality, relationship building on a Fulbright grant begins before you leave the United States–often via email and Skype. Having already made a few contacts in Brazil by email, and even visiting a few months before my Fulbright application was due, I assumed securing an in-country affiliation would be easy. However, my request for a formal letter was denied at the last minute. With little time to spare, I turned to the Internet and stumbled upon the graduate program in Society and Environment at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas which mirrored my research interests—community participation in coastal conservation. With a little bit of convincing, a translated copy of my proposal, and a draft letter of affiliation outlining the terms of our collaboration (which included a joint publication), I soon had my Fulbright affiliation. Once I arrived in Brazil, my host-country adviser provided feedback on my research and helped me navigate the paperwork required to conduct research as a foreign researcher in Brazil, including securing research ethics approval for conducting research with human subjects (similar to Institutional Review Board approval in the United States).

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U.S. Fulbright

Plenty of Adjustment Necessary, By Zipporah Slaughter, 2008-2009, Brazil

July 2, 2012

My Fulbright experience was nothing like what I had anticipated.  After the first week, I was ready to return home.  I was not off to a good start with my host institution.  On the first day at the center, the director greeted me sternly, “How’s your Portuguese?”  No, “Hello.”  No, “It’s good to meet you.”  No, “We’re looking forward to having you here.” 

Even after many language classes, I was still not close to where I wanted to be in terms of my comfort level with Portuguese, nor apparently where I needed to be.  I was disappointed and frustrated by my inability to communicate effectively.  I hired a Portuguese tutor, which I had included in my project proposal.  My listening ear improved and I connected better with the language.  Yet, language skills affected my research early on and progress moved slowly.  Beyond the obvious need for communication, language facility was important for understanding the significance of the issues surrounding my research topic, as well as work being done to address them.  It also added value to my overall Fulbright experience. 

My ethnographic research examined the structure, operations and effectiveness of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Salvador, Brazil, that focused on Afro-Brazilian women and girls.  To better comprehend how these entities were meeting the needs of the community, in addition to interviews and participant observation, I attended seminars, conferences, discussion groups and performances.  I also taught an English course to adults.  The research shifted as I learned that the nonprofits working on issues of gender and race were largely community-based groups and grassroots organizations.  Many were loosely structured and without documentation to qualify as an NGO, which limited their ability to apply for significant funding.  I asked questions about mission, vision, leadership, resources, outreach, and activities.  What was the role of these nonprofits in addressing and combating socio-economic inequities faced by Afro-Brazilian females, a segment of the population often at the bottom of social indicators?












The situation for Afro-descendant women and girls in Brazil is difficult, as racism and discrimination are prevailing factors.  The vast majority of Afro-Brazilians live in impoverished conditions without equal access to quality education and healthcare services.  Black women in Brazil earn less than half of what Whites earn.  In Salvador, the face of domestic labor (namely, maids or nannies) is typically an Afro-Brazilian female, and work is low pay and without labor protection rights.  Negative images of Black women in the media are pervasive and violence against women persists.  With these challenges, Afro-Brazilian women continue pushing to negotiate their own space within organizations to promote equality.

I came away from my Fulbright experience with a greater awareness and comprehension of the issues confronting Afro-Brazilian females and the organizations supporting their improved conditions.  While my expectations were met with my research, I left Salvador wanting to make a positive difference.  The earlier challenges I had experienced settling in–finding an affordable apartment, eating out as a vegetarian, excessive heat and no air conditioning, and administrative bureaucracy–faded into memory .  I gained more in return – developed greater confidence to travel abroad, learned to live in a new culture and made invaluable friendships.

My advice for applicants:   

  • Discuss your proposed research topic with professors and colleagues to develop a clear perspective and sense of how you expect to carry out your research.
  • Search organizations online to find an affiliate and make contact early.
  • Before traveling, clarify any expectations with your host institution.
  • Be flexible.

Top photo: Zipporah Slaughter, 2008-2009, Brazil, watching a sunset over the Bay of All Saints (Baía de Todos os Santos) in Salvador; the city of Salvador sits on a peninsula between the Bay of All Saints and the Atlantic Ocean

Middle photo: The all-female Banda Didá performing in the streets of historic Pelourinho; The Didá Education and Cultural Association is a nonprofit in Salvador founded in 1993, by Maestro Neguinho do Samba to improve girls’ confidence and self-esteem through music, percussion and the arts.