By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17
Miami is already known as one of the more popular destinations for vacationing Brazilians.
This summer, however, Brazil isn’t just sending beachgoers to South Florida.
Last month, FIU welcomed 50 Brazilian public high school English teachers to the university for the PDPI project, translated in English as the Professional Development Program for Teachers of English, which is sponsored by the Brazilian government through the Institute of International Education (IIE).
The teachers in the program will be provided with 180 hours of classes and labs while being taught different teaching methods at the FIU College of Education. At the same time, they will participate in an intensive English language instruction provided by the English Language Institute (ELI).
“These are students who are motivated and willing to take risks,” said Teresa Lucas, the FIU PDPI project director. “They see the value of furthering their own education. We’re working together to deepen their knowledge and it’s been very enriching for everybody. They bring so much to the table.”
The students had to go through a competitive process in order to qualify and many had to leave their families back home in order to participate in the six-week summer program. But for those who decided to come, the wealth of knowledge and training combined with a chance to engage in American culture has proven invaluable.
“Living far from our families for a few weeks has been challenging,” said Alexander Morais, 40, who teaches English in Recife, Brazil. “But this is an opportunity that we’ve never had before, a chance to help us improve our English and understand the culture better.”
A typical day in the life of these students, who are living in residential halls at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, includes mornings at the ELI and classes with faculty under the direction of ELI director Luis Sanchez designed to sharpen the group’s English skills.
In the first few weeks, the group is being taught conversational skills and pronunciation. In the final weeks, they will get a chance to integrate with other students at the ELI and get a first-hand look at how those students learn English.
“They will get to see how classes are taught and they themselves get to be students in them while observing how others are teaching those classes,” Sanchez said. “This is one of the most exciting programs we’ve been involved in and we want to see it grow.”
The College of Education then takes the group for the afternoon and focuses on training them on methodologies, such as fostering classroom participation and effective student assessment and evaluation.
The program also goes beyond the classroom. Maina Silva, 36, and her colleagues got to experience a bit of what life is like in Miami and the United States, visiting many of the city’s landmarks, enjoying an Independence Day fireworks celebration at the Biltmore Hotel, taking the Wynwood art gallery tour and going on an Everglades excursion.
“Before everything we’ve learned has been through books,” Silva said. “Now we’ve been able to experience the culture and that will help us teach and motivate students better than before.”
Toward the end of the program, the students will have to teach English lesson based on what they’ve learned and participate in a service learning project at a local high school, giving something back to the community they’ve called home for six weeks.
These 50 teachers are just a few of the students who have been sent from the rapidly growing South American nation to different parts of the United States for the summer, but Miami has a unique connection and appeal to Brazil.
Brazil is Florida’s top trading partner, totally $19.6 billion in trade in 2012, and programs like this show the Brazilian government’s eagerness to improve relations between the two countries as Brazil attempts to grow its emerging economy in the global marketplace.
“Being an emerging country, Brazil wants to make sure its teachers are well-trained,” Sanchez said. “They need English for business and trade and, of course, education. And with the World Cup coming up, they want to welcome visitors from all over the world and teaching English helps them do that.”
Brazilian participant Ana Rita Santana said, “Programs like this help strengthen the relationship between Brazil and the U.S.”
A second group from Brazil may be coming to campus in January of 2014. FIU is working on a proposal to host more students for the program. There is also potential for other countries to get involved; Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Japan have shown interest in starting similar programs.