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CPSY 5981 - Cross-Cultural Experiences in Education and English Teaching in Brazil

Program Overview

Students will gain exposure to the challenges of teaching and learning English in the rapidly developing country of Brazil. In partnership with a model private school in Feira de Santana, a city 1.5 hours north of Salvador, students will co-teach in an early childhood, elementary or junior high classroom. Brazil has recently been in the international spotlight after hosting the 2016 Olympics. How the country balances its economic growth while providing services like education to its citizens is an ongoing challenge we will consider.

Program Details

Locations: Rio de Janeiro (4 days) Salvador (3 weeks) Feira de Santana (3 months)

Housing: Rio: Small Inns, Salvador: Homestay, Feira: Furnished 8 person dorm with kitchen access within walking distance of the school, Colegio Helyos. Students live rent free in the dorm and receive a food stipend from the school.

Term: Fall and Spring Semesters

Program Eligibility:

1) Juniors, Seniors, Graduate students
2) GPA of 3.0
3) experience working with children

Language Requirement: 1 year of Portuguese or Spanish, or 2 years another Romance language

Credits: 12

Program Dates*
Fall semester: August 1- December 1
Spring semester: January 5 – May 8
*please note that dates are approximate and may change depending on the year.

Course Description

-Review language learning methods for young children and consider the challenge of providing services like education in a developing nation during your US orientation.

- Live with a Brazilian family in Salvador for 3 weeks while taking intensive Portuguese classes. 

-Become part of a classroom community working with Brazilian students in a smaller regional city in Bahia, considered by many the heart of Brazil. Along with a local co-teacher who speaks English, observe, then plan and deliver lessons and activities.  At the elementary or junior high level, lead classes half the day, or (typically in the early childhood grades) split your morning between teaching group lessons and supporting children immersion style by interacting informally with them. The course will provide practical experience developing curriculum for children whose first language is not English, a skill key to leading a successful classroom in the increasingly diverse North American context.

-Optional individual travel at conclusion of program

Helyos Staff

Program Leader(s)

Frances Durkin is the creativity coordinator for the Shirley G. Moore Lab School and an instructor in the Early Childhood Department. With an additional background in Latin American Development and Economics, and several years of visiting Brazilian schools to provide trainings and workshops, she will support both the development of your teaching craft and your understanding of the unique context in which you will be living.

Marina Aleixo, Ph.D., is the international programs coordinator in the Office of International Initiatives and Relations at the College of Education and Human Development. Dr. Aleixo received her doctorate from the University of Minnesota in Education, Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Second Languages and Cultures Education. She develops and implements international programs for educators and students. As a Brazilian native living in the US, she provides a unique vantage point on navigating the cultural differences between the two countries.

In Brazil, students will be supported in their teaching/planning by Valesca Pantoja, supervisor of the Early Childhood Language teachers at Colegio Helyos and an experienced English teacher. Ms. Pantoja is also the designated student coordinator for living details and other non-academic matters (excursions and health issues.)

Fraces Durkin and Marina Aleixo


Start with time in Rio de Janeiro, visiting school programs and seeing some of the iconic sites of this renowned city.  Go to Salvador, the original capital of Brazil and a UNESCO site for its preservation of colonial buildings in the Pelourinho area. Biweekly weekend excursions from Feira de Santana will be suggested to visit Salvador, neighboring beach towns, inland waterfalls, cultural festivals and other historical areas of note.

Estimated Program Fee

The total fee for the course (Fall 2017 or Spring 2018) is approximately $13,700 for UMN students. This includes everything: tuition, international airfare, on-site travel, three weeks of Portuguese classes, travel medical insurance, visa processing, housing, meals, excursions and sundry living expenses.

More Information:

Contact Frances Durkin with questions about the program.

Testimonials from past CPsy 5996 students

How was the overall  experience for you?

I had an incredibly positive experience during my time in Brazil. Highlights were...getting out of my comfort zone in many different situations both in teaching and social life.

I will say that the program changed my life. I think differently, I feel more confident in my independence and accomplishments, I developed a passion for another culture and language. My ability to improvise, problem solve, adapt everyday things to focus on specific topics, concepts, creativity, decisiveness etc grew significantly. I also finally got to see another part of the world, with a variety of things different than anything I have ever experienced before.

I grew as an educator, not only in educating children, but in educating and collaborating with other adults and educators. On top of all that I got to travel; see and experience other incredible parts of the world and in Brazil: the food, pousadas/hostels, the beaches and waterfalls, live local music and dances, the list goes on and on.

I learned to speak Portuguese, I learned a lot about Brazilian culture, I made a ton of friends and met people who I would now consider family.  My values were stretched and questioned and I became more well-rounded as I reflected upon some of the characteristics of our American culture and value system.

How did the program help you grow as an educator?  What about the assignments?

I already knew how to teach using developmentally appropriate practices, but teaching those ideas to others and explaining why definitely reinforced that knowledge and educational value system for me. That was in addition to all of the cultural differences, problem solving and creative resourcefulness that I learned and grew in as we encountered obstacles that aren't as typical in U.S. schools (or at least in the schools we are trained in for practicum and student teaching).

I thought the assignments involving debriefs of the teaching day with my co-teacher were really useful and helpful.  It was a great way to talk about what happened in the classroom and put it into writing.  I also liked the independent assignment a lot – it allowed me to think about what I was interested in and think critically about it.  It also inspired me to want to shift my research interests around young people and the environment.

What do the Brazilian teachers and students gain from the experience?

For our Brazilian students, they get to learn English in a more effective and engaging way. They get an opportunity to communicate with a native speaker and learn pronunciations without an accent. For the Brazilian English teachers, they get to practice conversing with a native English speaker to strengthen their language, comprehension and pronunciations. They learn all sorts of new practices and techniques to use in the classroom in order to facilitate more effective lessons and activities. They learn about collaboration and cultural relativity; again, the list goes on and on.

I have noticed many children speaking with less accent, I have also noticed children using more language in meaningful contexts, specifically during the Portuguese portion of the day.  They use “stop” and “again” when playing with me.  They use words we go over in English class when playing with me; when we went over the Three Little Pigs story, children were bringing me toy pigs all day and trying to say “pig.”  I have also noticed their receptive English has improved as well.  Now when I enter a play scenario and say things like “I’m hungry, can I have some food?” or “What are you building?” they are able to respond.  They respond in Portuguese, but they are responding correctly.

What else did you learn from the experience that has been useful to you as a US educator? How was it different from your student teaching?

There are many cultural and logistical differences between schools here and there but the problem solving and adaptations that you make around those differences are definitely transferable skills you can use in a variety of educational settings in the U.S. Therefore, it isn't a "repeat experience" of student teaching.

I was challenged (in a good way) with being in a science based classroom.  I’ve done a lot of out of school time/non traditional outdoor education, so it was great to learn how to funnel that into a traditional classroom based format. 

How much did you end up paying for the experience? How did you finance it?

I honestly don't remember a finite number that I paid for the experience, but it was certainly under what was promised.  I applied for a CEHD study abroad based scholarships and one from the Learning Abroad Center (not many people utilize the scholarships to its pretty easy to get awarded) and received $2,500 in scholarship money. Onestop also helped me secure more beneficial types of financial aid and got me a Perkins loan with better interest provisions than a standard federal loan. Overall, I feel as though it was an extremely beneficial investment, the accommodations are completely taken care of (and taken care of well) in Brazil. When I was in the program I also received an additional monthly spending allowance from the school owners and that really helped with out-of-pocket expenses.

How did your knowledge level of Portuguese affect your experience?

Before going to Brazil I knew Oi (Hi), Tchau (Bye), Por favor (Please) and was shaky on my pronunciation of Obrigada (Thank you). I had studied Spanish for 2 years in high school, but it had been almost 7 years since and I had forgotten most of it. I took one week of Portuguese (about 3.5 hours per day) for my first week that I stayed in Salvador. After one week I was still pretty insufficient, however I tried to speak and listen in Portuguese a lot and caught on pretty quick.

I feel pretty confident about learning Portuguese!  I started out knowing a few words – and my language level improved so much in a few months.  (Student w/ prior experience in French)

How was the support/help you got from the Brazilian coordinator?

V was incredibly supportive during the entire time.  She was able to help us out at any time, but also gave us room to be independent.  She was extremely approachable and compassionate. I enjoyed being able to work with her.

V was very helpful in all of these situations.  She gave support and always made sure we were able to contact her in case of any emergency situations.  She went above my expectations of making sure we felt comfortable the entire time.

Sunset in Brazil