Searching for Success with SESI

Erica Gonzales - Brazil

December 23, 2015

It’s been 3 months since I’ve entered my community here in Paranaguá. I’ve already overcome some challenges (such as learning how to ride a bike), but the challenge that remains is with my apprenticeship. 

I’m still confused and feel as if I’m a failure. After 3 months, shouldn’t I feel that I’m growing as a “leader”? Let’s backtrack.
If you don’t know yet, my apprenticeship is with a high school called Colégio SESI. When I was assigned this apprenticeship, I wasn’t given a specific role. I was just to assist the staff with any help they need. Nevertheless, I was ecstatic that I had an apprenticeship in the education sector, and I was excited to start. I imagined myself happily and effortlessly interacting with the students (maybe even teaching a class) and having meaningful conversations with the staff about the importance of education. But with my high expectations, I should’ve known to expect disappointments. My first two months were awful.
The First Month
I did almost nothing. Sometimes, I sat at the office waiting for my supervisor or any staff to tell me what I can help them with. Instead, I sat thinking and writing about what I’m doing, whether I made the right choice, and what I can do to improve my experience. Sometimes, my supervisor would have me sit in on the classes where I would do nothing but observe. But after 2 weeks, she even stopped allowing me to sit in the classes, so I again continued to just sit in the office. I tried so hard to remain positive.
The following were my attempts to search for meaning in my experience:
1) Simply observing will help me understand the dynamics between students and teachers.
2) Simply observing will also help me understand how these students learn.
3) As an outsider and as someone fresh out of high school, I have the unique ability to judge with an objective eye, yet emphasize with their situation because I was there a few months ago. Having experience in this position will surely help me understand education.
4) I’m practicing my Portuguese just by trying to eavesdrop on the conversations around me.
What I was really thinking:
1) What time does school end today? I can’t wait to go home.
2) My head hurts – too much Portuguese.
3) SESI doesn’t really need my help. I’m wasting my time here when I can be helping out at a public high school, which I assume would actually need some help.
4) I don’t think my supervisor and the other staff like me and want me there. They hardly smile and talk to me.
I know these thoughts are very negative, but I couldn’t help it with my frustration. However, the negativity will eventually dissipate.
Although my first month was filled with bad days, I did have a few good days. Every Wednesday, the SESI students have English class, and those days I’m active. Despite the English teacher’s arrogance (I won’t go into details), I enjoyed interacting with the students. For the first two classes, I even gave a speech about my American culture with discussions ensuing – a wonderful cultural exchange.
The Second Month
I can explain what I did in one sentence: for 4-5 hours every day, I mused about life’s mysteries as I helped SESI advertise for the next school year by cutting pieces of paper inscribed with SESI’s address and gluing those pieces of paper on piles and piles of brochures.
The Third Month & My Breaking Point
On November 6th, I finally finished the brochures. I WAS FREE! Or so I thought. The bliss of freedom from mostly mindless cutting and gluing lasted for about 10 minutes when my supervisor found something for me to “do.” She had the brilliant idea of transforming me into a hall monitor to prevent the students from drinking water, using the bathroom, and apparently smoking in the nooks and crannies of the tiny campus. Hence, for the following 270 minutes, I leaned against a pillar reading a book assigned by Global Citizen Year called The Blue Sweater (very enlightening!) and asking each student that passes me “Onde você vai?” After about 2 hours of this and the students not even listening to me when I told them “não pode”, I messaged my team leader Belkis a page-long rant.
Six days later, Belkis and I had a conversation on Skype. I explained all my frustrations, and we exchanged solutions to improve my experience. The following is the letter I wrote to my supervisor that expresses my thoughts and suggestions. To those who can read Portuguese, please excuse any mistakes I made.
Eu escrevi esta carta porque é difícil para mim exprimir todos os meus pensamentos quando eu falo português. Meu português não é bom o suficiente. Quinta-feira passada, eu tive uma conversa com Belkis sobre meu aprendizado aqui no SESI. Eu acho que eu não têm ajudado muito SESI. Esta carta vai compartilhar meus sentimentos e como eu espero fazer este intercâmbio benéfica para SESI e me. 
I wrote this letter because it’s difficult for me to express all my thoughts by speaking Portuguese. My Portuguese is still not good enough. Last Thursday, I had a conversation with Belkis about my apprenticeship here at SESI. I have not been helping SESI much. This letter will share what I’ve been feeling so far and how I hope to make this exchange worthwhile. 

Primeiro, eu sei que eu não me-exprimir bem. Eu sou naturalmente uma pessoa tímida e eu não costumo mostrar meus sentimentos. Mesmo quando eu estou feliz, eu não costumo mostrá-lo. Eu estou tentando mudar isso. Nos últimos dois meses foram confuso para mim. Eu não conseguia entender português, eu não conseguia falar português, e eu não sabia as normas de SESI. Quando eu não entendo, eu observo e escuto. Embora eu estou silenciosa, eu estou aprendendo muito com SESI. Eu estou lentamente aprendendo sobre os alunos, o pessoal do SESI, e como as funções do SESI. Eu também estou aprendendo sobre as diferenças entre a educação nos Estados Unidos e educação no Brasil. Tudo que eu aprendi tenha sido esclarecedor.
First, I know I haven’t expressed myself well. I’m naturally a shy person, and I don’t usually show my feelings. Even when I’m happy, I don’t usually show it. I’m trying to change this. During the past two months I’ve been working at SESI, I have been confused.  I couldn’t understand the language, I couldn’t speak the language, and I didn’t know the rules.  When I don’t understand, I observe and listen. Even though I’ve been quiet, I’ve been learning a lot about this foreign environment. I’m slowly learning about the students, about the teachers, and about the schedules. I’m also learning the differences between education in the United States and Brazil. Everything I’ve learned has been enlightening.

Mas eu ainda estou confuso. Às vezes, eu não sei o que eu estou fazendo. Eu não sei se eu estou realmente ajudando ou se eu estou sendo um fardo. Por exemplo, quando me-sentar nas aulas, eu quero conversar com os alunos, mas eu não sei se eu posso. Às vezes, quando os alunos estão falando apenas, eu não sei se eu deveria dizer-lhes para trabalhar ou se eu também posso conversar com eles. Eu gosto de interagir com os alunos, mas eu não sei se eu sou uma distração.
But I’m still confused. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if I’m actually helping or if I’m being a burden. For example, when I sit in the classes, I want to talk to the students, but I don’t know if I’m allowed to. Sometimes, they just talk, and I don’t know if I should tell them to do their work or if I can also talk with them. I like interacting with the students, but I don’t know if I’m going to be a distraction.

Eu quero explicar porque eu acho Belkis me-colocado aqui no SESI. Desde o começo, eu disse a ela que eu quero ter um aprendizado na educação porque eu quero aprender mais sobre educação e como funciona o aprendizado. Para mim, a educação é a chave para resolver a maioria dos problemas do mundo. Infelizmente, a educação também é um problema. Para muitas crianças no mundo, a educação é inacessível e a educação que é acessível não tem boa qualidade. Adicionalmente, muitos alunos que estão recebendo uma boa educação não aproveitá-la. Eles não têm a motivação para aprender. Este é o que acontece com muitos alunos americanos. Eles têm a sorte de receber uma educação mas eles não percebem isso. O que acontece é uma escassez de pessoas que se-preocupam com o mundo é uma escassez de pessoas que podem melhorá-lo. Minha carreira sonho é ajudar a descobrir por que estes são problemas e ajudar a descobrir como corrigi-los. É por isso que eu disse que eu estou aprendendo muito no SESI. Meus obsevações lentamente vai ajudar a responder minhas perguntas.

Now that I’ve shared how I felt, I want to explain why I think Belkis placed me here. From the very beginning, I told her that I want to have an apprenticeship in education because I want to learn more about education and how learning works. To me, education is the key to solving most of the world’s problems. But unfortunately, education is part of the problem. For many children in the world, education is inaccessible, and the education that is accessible doesn’t have good quality. Furthermore, students who are receiving a good education don’t take advantage of it. They don’t have motivation to learn. This is what happens to many American students. They are lucky to receive an education and they don’t realize it. What happens is a shortage of people who care about the world and a shortage of people who can improve it. My dream career is to help figure out why these are problems and help figure out how to fix it. This is why I said I’m learning a lot at SESI. My observations will slowly help answer my questions.

Agora, eu quero dizer como eu acho que este intercâmbio pode melhorar.

1) Quando eu não estou fazendo nada, eu quero sentar nas aulas. Se eu sento nas aulas, eu posso apenas observar e aprender com as interações entre os alunos e seus professores. Eu expliquei como é importante minhas observações são. Eu espero que os professores vai me-permitir a se-senta em suas aulas e eu espero que eu posso se-sentar nas aulas diferentes e materiais diferentes. E eu espero que as vezes eu posso conversar com os alunos e não sou um distração.

2) Às segundas-feiras e sextas-feiras, eu vou trabalhar no período da tarde, em vez de na parte da manhã . Normalmente, eu não faço qualquer coisa nestes dias. Belkis disse que posso fazer oficinas com os alunos no período da tarde . Eu não sei se os alunos vão querer ficar após a escola comigo, mas Belkis e eu acham que ter estes workshops vai nos ajudar a aprender mais sobre a cultura de cada um.

Eu espero que
você entendeu meu português. Obrigada pelo lendo esta carta.
Now, I want to say how I think this exchange can improve.

1) When I’m not doing anything, I want to sit in the classes. If I sit in the classes, I can just observe and learn from the interactions between the students and their teachers. I explained how important my observations are. I hope that the teachers will allow me to sit in their classes, and I hope I can sit in different classes about different subjects. And I hope that sometimes, I can talk with the students and not be a distraction.

2) On Mondays and Fridays, I’ll work in the afternoon instead of in the morning. Usually, I don’t do anything on these days. Belkis said I can do workshops with the students in the afternoon. I don’t know if the students will want to stay after school with me, but Belkis and I both think that having these workshops will help us learn more about each other’s cultures.
I hope that you understood my Portuguese. Thank you for reading this letter.
After my supervisor read the letter, she allowed me to visit the classes to ask the students (in Portuguese!) if they wanted to have workshops with me. I explained that these workshops are meant to increase cultural exchange and discuss topics I wished I was aware about when I was 15 or 16. I passed around a piece of paper and asked them to write down their names if they were interested. Surprisingly, 35 students wrote their names! One student even asked if I can hold English classes with them on Saturdays, and others expressed the same interest. Motivated by the response, I spent the whole weekend planning a workshop on unconscious bias and stereotypes. I also began to plan the first English lesson. When I returned to work, I visited the classes again, and we determined the dates and time these activities will start.
But as I’m learning, things never go as planned. On the Saturday of the first English class, nobody came. On the Friday of the first workshop, nobody came again. When I asked some of the students why they didn’t come to English class, they said 9 AM was too early in the morning, and some of them lived in downtown, which is considered far from SESI (a 15-minute drive). And when I asked about the workshop, they explained that many of them had jobs and extra classes at 2 PM (even though I asked which time and dates were good for them).
Fortunately, the plan for the English class turned around. The students continued to ask me if I will still hold English classes. I decided to try again. This time, I asked those who wanted to attend these classes for their WhatsApp numbers, so that I can directly plan the classes with them. When the day of the first class arrived, about 15 students were in Room 1 ready to learn English. After the first lesson ended, they were excited for the next one. Because the school year has ended in Brazil, I’ve only held two English classes, but I’m currently trying to plan classes with the students during the summer at my home.
This afterschool English class is my only tangible success with my apprenticeship. I still didn’t do anything during my designated working hours, which I filled by trying to finish drafts of writings, applying to colleges, watching TED talks, and listening to podcasts. I’m trying to remind myself that the intangible successes matter as much. I’ve come a long way regarding my relationship with the students. I went from awkwardly and silently sitting in the classes to joking, dancing, and playing games with them. I will do my best again when the new school year starts in February. If there’s one thing I hope to achieve at the end of my apprenticeship with Colégio SESI, it’s for me to somehow become an inspiration to the students, and for the students to become an inspiration to me.
*Meanwhile, since I won’t have an apprenticeship until February, I’m currently searching for ways to engage with my community. I possibly will help out at my Portuguese teacher’s English school.

Erica Gonzales