My Life-changing Teaching Experience in Natal, Brazil

“Olá, meu nome e Xiaole.”

 On June 27th, I arrived in Natal, Brazil. On August 14th, I left my older version of myself in this charming and magical city. As an English teacher, I volunteered for 6 weeks in Centro Educacional Dom Bosco, a Catholic informal education school that has different social projects for children and adolescents in Natal. I cannot say this is my whole stretch experience because my SE is much more than itself. 

Before my class, I visited Centro Educacional Dom Bosco and met Lourdes, the coordinator of the school. Then I met Paulo, the dance teacher at Dom Bosco. Paulo is the only person from Dom Bosco who can speak English fluently. Paulo told me that students love Sofia’s class because she has a passion for what she is doing. Then I met Sofia, a Columbian girl who was teaching Spanish and would finish her project in 2 weeks. However, I found a few students were sleeping or making noise during the classes even if Sofia’s class was amazing. I was confused and uncomfortable with those performances of students in a teacher’s position. During the break, Sofia told me that “Don’t feel upset if students don’t pay attention to your classes. There are always some students who don’t want to listen to you.” 

“But I can change this situation in the classroom,” I told myself. My objective is to contribute productively providing the experience of another language. Small changes can make big differences. It is important for teachers preparing their classes. When I was making my slides, I translated all the words in Portuguese. For basic communication, I learned common Portuguese which teachers usually use in their classes, such as “escreva”, “silêncio”, etc. I created practice reviews and I removed all the Portuguese from these practices so students can learn English without translation. As a teacher, becoming aware of what I should wear is necessary.

Another critical part of preparation is to understand my students’ English level. Their entry-level English surprised me. In Brazil, less than 5% of the population speaks Intermediate English, and only 1% are fluent (Data popular, O Brasil em Perspectiva, 2013). After trying to talk with my students, I believe the data is trustworthy now. With the help of Paulo, Sofia, and translator, I interacted with many students who quickly became my friends. I met many friendly, welcoming, and amazing people from school. My students are talented. They are good at music and dance. After a week, I found my classes should be diverse. My students’ English levels are significantly different. For one or two students, “hi”, “hello” and “good” are the words they know. Whereas, 2 boys can talk with me fluently. Their ages are between 15 to 22. The number of students from each class is in a range of 3 to 40 people. Some of them are still students, but some start to work. Therefore,  students of each group are different in terms of genders, ages, family dynamics, education backgrounds, etc. In the second week, I made little changes. I printed reading exercises of various levels to my students. I made workshops for helping students who were struggling with English. During the breaks, I would find the YouTube music to play. The changes encouraged students to stay in my classroom, helping them to focus and learn.

On Monday, July 29th, I was sick and almost lost my voice, but I still insisted to deliver my English class. I still remembered what happened in my class, because the tear was in my eyes and my heart was bleeding. There was one boy who sits in the corner of the classroom. I asked him to make notes during the class, he ignored me. I repeated each word and sentences for him and asked him to repeat what I said, but he stared at me with his closed mouth. I was helpless, but I started to talk to him with the help of Paulo during the break. In short, he had bad memory and experience with previous volunteers so he didn’t trust anyone. After having this conversation with him, we understood each other and he started to follow me during the class.  Paulo once told me “ Hey Xiaole, you know you don’t have to do what you all done ”. “I cannot ignore any students in my class. They all matter to me. I was a student at their age and I understand some students don’t like studying. But this cannot be the reason that teachers could ignore their students. They are too young to know the importance of knowledge, so it is my responsibility to take care of my students” I said. 

Support House for Children with Cancer Durval Paiva

Besides the Dom Bosco school, I volunteered and celebrated a birthday for a boy who has a heart cancer in Support House for Children with Cancer Durval Paiva. I gained knowledge of taking care of and communicate with children and adolescents who require special needs. Also, I was invited to Educandario Nossa Senhora das Graças, a private early childhood education and elementary school located in Afonso Bezerra, State of Rio Grande do Norte. I presented myself in front of 100+ children and responded to their curiosity. I educated them about the history of China and Chinese culture. I taught them basic English and how to count numbers in Mandarin. Moreover, I had a chance to watch how TV interview is produced in Brazil for supporting Maria, the mother of my host family. She is a caring person and a servant leader who teaches me that social work can play an important role in poverty alleviation. Natal is a spectacular city surrounded by beaches. I collected garbage and recycling with other global volunteers when we were on the beaches each time. I was reluctant to wear a Bikini at first, because I was not confident with my flabby arms, big thighs, etc. I was not happy with how my body looks, but this perspective changed. I learned the biggest lesson from Marília, the daughter of my host, doing her Master’s degree in Education at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte. The lesson is that all body types have their beauty, we should love ourselves first. All girls and boys should have the freedom to dress up as they want. 

Xiaole, Maria, photographer, journalist
Educandario Nossa Senhora das Graças
Educandario Nossa Senhora das Graças

My trip is incredibly inspiring. I grow not only as a leader but also as a person. I can read and speak basic Portuguese, which was a new language for me. Looking forward, my next step is learning Spanish this year. I learn to become an active listener and have effective communications. Attitude is the core value, which is essential. I become an independent and confident person. I met over 500 people in Brazil. I gain knowledge in terms of LGBTQA+, religion, gender equity, social work, environmental sustainability, multiculturalism, self-awareness, teamwork, problem-solving, etc. In Brazil, I witnessed the death of my friend’s father in heart surgery. I went to his funeral and admire his bravery. Now If I tell you I am a third-year computing science student at the University of Alberta, you will be shocked. I bet you that you don’t expect I am a CS girl. But why I chose to be a teacher in Brazil? Education helped me rewrite my life. My passion is to help students who cannot afford education financially and to help students who cannot have a chance to obtain an education because of gender discrimination. Therefore, I want to deliver my inspiring teaching in the other half of the world. Finally, I am thankful for PLLC to provide me this unique chance to stretch me out in some new fields for me. 

By Xiaole Zeng

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