Two CentreTerm courses travel to Brazil to explore culture
More than 20 Centre College students in the “Spanish-American Culture Abroad” and “Brazil’s Racial Paradise: Myth or Reality?” courses recently traveled to Brazil during CentreTerm, a three-week January term that gives students the opportunity to explore unique topics and faraway places through immersive courses, studying abroad or completing an internship or research project.
During “Brazil’s Racial Paradise: Myth or Reality?” course, Assistant Professor of Spanish Satty Flaherty-Echeverria said students learned about the racial dynamics of two major cities, São Paulo and Salvador, through art, text and visits to diverse settings.
“In São Paulo, students participated in a samba school rehearsal, visited major city landmarks and the Afro-Brazilian museum,” Flaherty-Echeverria added. “In Salvador, students read and experienced the three most important Afro-Brazilian traditions: Capoeira, Candomblé and cooking.”
This course questioned what racial democracy is and studied the trajectory of the term and how it manifests in present day Brazil.
“I wanted students to compare their experiences and observations on the trip with class readings about race and racial dynamics in Brazil,” she said. “I wanted them to be able to examine critical issues of race in Brazil and learn about the particular movements that underprivileged communities have created, such as occupation movements to end homelessness, black women’s empowerment and art programs for children.”
Assistant Professor of Spanish Laura Chinchilla, who taught the “Spanish American Culture Abroad” course, said the students dealt with urban space in Latin America and how it intersects with questions of race, gender and social justice.
“We looked at cultural products generated by the specific contexts in which we were living and studying,” Chinchilla added. “For example, we studied the rich graffiti culture of São Paulo and literature from marginal areas of the city (called ‘periferia’). We also talked to leaders of a social movement that fights for housing rights in the city.”
In this course, students looked at the way Brazilians have organized their cities, the way space affects our everyday lives and the cultural responses to this.
“I wanted students to think about the space we live in more deeply—how space, for instance, dictates the types of relationships we establish with those around us,” she said. “Latin America’s urban life is bustling and very public, yet at the same time, there has been a push toward privatization and isolation. Students got to live and interrogate these contradictions.”
In addition to their studies, the group visited a sea turtle sanctuary in the north coast of Salvador, as well as two islands off the bay.
Flaherty-Echeverria and Chinchilla both studied in Brazil, and once they came to Centre, they were eager to develop a course that would allow them to share their knowledge and love of Brazilian culture.
For both professors, the goal of the experience was for the students to develop a cross-cultural understanding, appreciating what can be learned from other cultures and spaces and how one relates to others with different languages, worldviews and ideas.
“The experience was very enriching and the diversity of our group made the discussions very vibrant,” both said.
“As a black African immigrant, race is something central to my identity,” Minteh Minteh ‘19 said. “I am always looking to study this social construct in new ways and from different lenses. When the opportunity to study race in Brazil was presented, I saw it as a chance to learn more about myself and race from a different perspective.”
Minteh said her experience in Brazil is one that she will treasure forever.
“My favorite thing about the class was all the organizations and places we visited, because hearing and learning from the people whose everyday lives were shaped by the concept we were trying to make sense of made the learning a little bit easier and a lot more memorable,” she added. “Brazil is a country full of energy and so much culture. The impact of the enslaved Africans and their descendants is huge and visible everywhere.”
Erin Didier ’18 said she has had the desire to travel to Brazil for so long and realized the country was just as fascinating and rich in culture as she had imagined.
“Living with a Brazilian roommate was an invaluable factor in the experience,” Didier said. “It helped us to really connect with the culture in a personal way within the short time we were there.
“The combination of the country, the atmosphere our professors created and the attitudes of the people on the trip made for a special experience I hold close to my heart,” she concluded.
by Kerry Steinhofer
February 16, 2018