Fellow Stories

Pay-It-Forward Project

By: Anya Carrasco

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I am one of the co-organizers of Mashup Mondays, a weekly language exchange at Cultural Vistas, the organization where I work. At Cultural Vistas the majority of staff members have lived or worked abroad and speak different languages. Mashup Mondays allows people to keep up with the foreign languages they speak. I came up with the idea in 2012 with another language enthusiast co-worker. Back then it was held on Tuesdays as “Tandem Tuesdays.” There was a months-long period where we didn’t have Tandem Tuesdays because people got too busy to lead and participate, or the interest just fell off. We revived it earlier this year as “Mashup Mondays.”

For my PIF project I made a short presentation about US-Brazil Connect to Mashup Mondays co-organizers and attendees on Monday, July 14. At that point I also announced that for subsequent weeks of Mashup Mondays I would be incorporating some language-based activities that I learned through my US-Brazil Connect fellowship work. Up until then, we had just had conversational ‘mashups’ where people broke off into their language groups and had informal chats in the language of their choice.

For the past few weeks we have had people come in and practice the language of their choice, as long as they have at least one other speaker of the same language. We have done games in German and Portuguese, even combining language groups, like when we did the question circle, the alphabet game using nouns (everyone said a word that started with the next letter of the alphabet) and a verb circle (everyone said a verb in their language starting with the last letter of the previous word). Up next are Word Count, Guess Who, I have never (Ich habe noch nie in German) and People Bingo.

My colleague Paola who also participated in USBC is an active participant. In preparation for People Bingo on August 18, she and I wrote some traits in Portuguese; our colleagues Max and Sanjin came up with theirs in German. We are going to have German, Portuguese and Spanish on the bingo squares and these core group members as well as anyone else who might want to participate, will compete against one another. Mashup members will be challenged to go around the entire office and find people who fit the description. Below I’ve included some pictures showing the work from Mashup.

Through Conexao Mundo I not only learned new language teaching techniques but I have also developed my capacity as a leader. There is a clear difference in the way I carry myself in work meetings and activities versus before I did the fellowship. The colleagues who have been participating in Mashup Mondays are more engaged and it allows people from different departments to get to know each other better. I am directly helping to foster a sense of community in the organization, and providing opportunities for people to practice languages that helped them get this job in the first place. Many people have shared that these kinds of activities really do help to boost their job satisfaction and day-to-day productivity. After seeing how much I’ve gained through my participation in USBC, it has also piqued colleagues’ interest in using their vacation time to take part in exchange programs, too. This is really telling of how impactful the USBC methodology is. Our USBC-influenced Mashups have been a huge success and I’m really happy to be paying it forward in this way.

A Fear Worth Feeling

By: Lauren Prebenda

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

With a plastic, white #4 hotel room card in my hand and a clunky, gold key dangling about, I cautiously held out my arms and stepped out of the tiny elevator. I took a few steps, with my arms still sprawled in front of me, before a dim bulb in the center of the ceiling lit up the corridor. The light made a soft humming noise and shadows were cast in the corners where this single, hazy bulb couldn’t reach. I looked curiously at the display of yellow, numbered doors surrounding me until I found number 4. The key fit perfectly into the lock and I turned it slowly to the right, to unlock the door of the room that would act as my home for the next month.

I pushed my shoulder against the heavy door and to my surprise, it didn’t budge. I turned the key again: nothing. I turned the key left once, two times. I turned it right. I walked away, took a deep breath, and returned to the door. For ten minutes, I yanked the key back and forth, and slammed my body against the door, when I heard a click. Somehow, I had finally unlocked the door, though I was still entirely unaware of what I had done to accomplish this. Once inside, I sat on the edge of the bed, holding my head in my hands. What was I doing here? How was I going to pull this off? I had just arrived in Brazil and couldn’t even figure out how to open the door. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out for this. If I couldn’t even figure out how to properly use the room key, how could I possibly help a classroom full of Brazilian students learn English?

It’s been more than a year since I stepped foot in Brazil for the first time, since I first stumbled into that hotel room in Salvador. A year ago, I walked unknowingly through that dark hallway, fumbling with my room key and wringing my hands in terror because I simply couldn’t get the door open. I was uncertain of whether or not I would survive that month, whether I was strong enough or had the skills necessary to do so.

Two months ago, I returned home from my second trip to Brazil. This year, I traveled with US-Brazil Connect as a Team Leader. I worked with community college students, many of whom stood exactly where I did only a year ago: with the same sort of uncertainty and the same sort of fear. But, I’ve learned to love this type of fear, and I’ve witnessed a number of fellows develop a deep appreciation for it, too. It is a healthy kind of ‘afraid’; one that must be experienced in order for progress. A fear you often blindly throw yourself into, one you don’t fully understand in the beginning. It is the type of fear that makes you realize exactly what you’re capable of, what you can accomplish and overcome. It is a fear that you will meet with numerous times in your life, but one that you never become accustomed to and no matter the outcome– it is always worth feeling.

FVCC Students Travel to Brazil

By: Brigitte Henkelmann

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

In July 2013, five students packed their suitcases and left for the faraway land of Brazil. We had been preparing for this trip since early March. We traveled through a program called U.S.-Brazil Connect . The program was in its second year, although this was FVCC’s first year in the program. US-Brazil Connect is a nationwide program, with many community colleges participating from places like Michigan, Iowa and Montana.

The FVCC team began to form our experience in March. We would meet on Saturday mornings at the college with our coordinator, Gerda Reeb to hold a Google Hangout with our Colorado based leaders and coordinator.  During this time, we practiced coaching techniques, talked about the program aspects, such as safety and preparation and generally got to know each other. On April 1st, we were assigned our students. From there, we found the students on Facebook, and began to lead our online Facebook groups by stirring up conversation, both through assignments and online polls, and just generally trying to form relationships as best we could in a virtual world. Additionally, we set up Google Hangouts with our students as often as possible. In the beginning of June, we flew to Denver for training. There we met our leaders in person, as well as the other fellows that we would be traveling with. That weekend it finally hit me that we were really going to Brazil, and I felt much more prepared, ready and excited.

After three months of getting to know our students, the excitement was building immensely. Our students were posting videos and pictures for us like crazy. We tried our best to reciprocate the excitement. Once we landed in Brazil, we had a group of approximately 30 students yelling, cheering, holding signs waiting for us. I felt like Justin Bieber getting out of a limo, only way cooler. After traveling for more than 24 hours, it was a wonderful welcome to Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Belo Horizonte or BH for short, is inland, about 9 hours Northwest of Rio de Janeiro, in the state of Minas Gerais. We arrived on a Monday, and began teaching on Thursday. That way we had time to adjust and get acclimated.

Our day usually began early in the morning with breakfast, then a bus ride to the school. There we would spend one hour teaching our EFL or level based groups, followed by two hours with our Project Based groups, students of all different levels from different schools working together with their coaches towards a weekly goal. The first week we came up with a team name, mine was the Crazy New York Players, and a team cheer. The other topics were travel, music, and one week we created a skit from scratch with no theme, so that each group could express its interest. My team came up with a skit that involved a large cat, Halloween, and stealing back candy. The final hour of the day, all of the teams would come together for assembly time, about 150 of us in total. There, students performed, we sang songs together, and one  group even came up with a whole dance to the song “Call Me Maybe” complete with numbers written on their hand and everything.

The time we spent with our students was incredible. They are a group of the nicest, most appreciative, and open teenagers I have ever met. To see the change in English proficiency was truly magical. With one student, she could barely say hello at the beginning, and by the end we were having in depth conversations about our hobbies, the future and life in general. Saying goodbye to our students was emotionally intense for all of us, thankfully we had each other to lean on.

Our time in Brazil was too short, and even just a month later it feels like a fond, distant memory. Each of us had a different, wonderful experience. On the flight back, the FVCC team was discussing how we had changed. Everyone agreed that no one came back the same person as before, we had grown as people, had become familiar with another culture, and had built a wonderful network of support for each other in a foreign land.

If you are interested in creating your own experience in Brazil next summer, I urge you to check out us-brazil.org, the US-Brazil Connect Facebook page, and just talk to a fellow that went this year.