Amanda Ufer is originally from Traverse City, MI. She graduated in the spring of 2015 from NMC with an Associates Degree in Science and Arts and transferred to Calvin College to study Math and Spanish, ultimately for secondary education.
I grew up in Traverse City along with my three sisters and always dreamed of traveling the world some day. I didn’t expect that I would visit three different countries before I turned 20! I spent 3 weeks learning Spanish in Costa Rica with my best friend and a long week in Jamaica with my senior class. By the time second semester of my first year at NMC rolled around I was itching for another trip somewhere. I heard about US-Brazil Connect (USBC) and thought it sounded interesting, but I wasn’t an English major or even an education major. I didn’t feel confident that I would have time to work with students online before, and after, the month in Brazil so I passed it up. The following school year Jim Bensley came into one of my classes to inform us about a study abroad trip and I couldn’t help myself from researching the trips to find one. I found the USBC trip again and had since changed my major from medicine to education.
So I decided I would somehow raise the money and make it a reality.
It became clear that I would be crazy NOT to take this opportunity.
I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but after I met my students I quickly realized that I was going to be forming great relationships with them and each time I talked to them I got more and more excited about meeting them in person. The weeks seemed to go by slow as all I could think about was getting to Brazil. Finally, it was time to head out for Petrolina, Brazil and I said my goodbyes. I felt excited, nervous, bummed, prepared and unprepared all at the same time. I had traveled before, but never to teach English! I was worried that I wouldn’t be good enough or that I didn’t know enough Portuguese etc. As soon as I met my students at the opening ceremony all of my doubts melted away. I was beyond excited to work with them and encounter all of the new adventures.
Our team bonded really well and we all had an amazing experience together. We stayed in the Petrolina Palace Hotel and enjoyed getting to know the staff there and we got to know our taxi drivers too. We would even go out to dinner with them. A few of my favorite things we did were take a ferry to Ilha do Rodeadouro and spend the day on the river, kayak around Ilha do Fogo, and the pool day with our students. Yes, we literally hung out at the pool all day with our students for one of our last days in Brazil! In class we would play various games and do activities to improve reading, writing, and speaking in English. My students were a very beginning level and it was amazing to see how much they learned in those few weeks! I am beyond proud of them and so thankful for such an amazing team to experience this with. The coordinators on both sides are wonderful and they work so hard to make this a truly incredible experience for everyone.
Overall, this was a wonderful trip and my students and I learned a lot. I feel that I’ve expanded my comfort zone and I realized that I don’t have to be a perfect coach to be a good coach. At times we would deviate from the written lesson plans, but those discussions were great and both my students and I would learn about each other’s cultures and they would still be practicing English.
I asked my students once I was back in the states how the program has impacted them and this is what a couple of them said… Thalia says, “World Connection helped me a lot. Because of the Connection World I am more focused on my studies. It encourages me to want to learn more and more.” Marcelo says, “Unbelievable! I learned a lot from you and I thank Connection World for this opportunity! It awakened me to a different look at what teamwork is.”
This is a very unique program and if I could give advice to anyone thinking about doing it, it would be this; go for it. You do not need to have a major that has anything to do with education or English and you don’t need to know Portuguese. Of course, it’s helpful, but the language barrier should not hold you back. The main idea is to build cross-cultural relationships and encourage the students to do their best. This experience was incredible and will stay with me the rest of my life.