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Into the great Amazon

Ricky Ochilo, staff writer

Sitting still in a boat, their eyes wander to the crystal pureness of the water which carries them. In the distance ahead, lush forests and rich canopies rest gently on the Amazon floor. They gaze at the beauty which surrounds them; pristine hills and estuaries meander across the crisp tropical forest and sublime views of the towering sky leave them gasping in adoration. Welcome to a “port of entry” in Brazil, the Northeastern Estuary region of Amazonia.

During this past summer, Lorrie Jayne, International Student Advisor and Lyn O’Hare, Director of Academic Support Services at Warren Wilson College (WWC) led a Study Abroad program to Brazil called Ports of Entry, Brazil language and Culture.

“Lyn O’Hare and I have taught this course before in Costa Rica.  We wanted to try it again, and, as I had contacts in Brazil, we decided to teach it there.” Jayne said.

The study abroad course was an effort to explore language and culture for students. O’Hare explained that part of the focus was to help students understand how to acquire language, inter-culturally, verbally and kinesthetically. She added that students learned how to interact with people of a different cultural background, and also learn important elements that define people’s traditions and lifestyles.

“Some students played pool, talked with the locals, and wrote verbal to associate with the kids” O’Hare said.

Apart from promoting interaction and cultural awareness, the course study put students in touch with “leaders of grassroots cooperatives” whose mission is to serve the local community in hopes of preserving the cherished biodiversity of the region, Jayne said. Not only did students learn about cultural relativity but also they were able to get a sense of environmental preservation as a means to nurturing and serving communities.

The experience of the trip was also beneficial for non-speakers who were not conversant in Portuguese. O’Hare maintained that it encouraged listening and the understanding of phonetics as a bridge to communication. Although there were times when students were frustrated because they could not communicate with the locals, they learned other important ways to interact and breakdown cultural barriers.

Most of the people they visited were of Afro-Brazilian descent or were River People, so called because they live along where the Amazon River begins and flows out into the Atlantic. Jayne expressed her appreciation for the deep traditional lifestyle of the people. She mentioned that they were pleased to learn unique ways about how the surrounding plants sustained the people.

“We had sessions with the locals about various medicinal and herbal purposes of the plants surrounding the region,” Jayne said. She added that apart from studying language and culture these exchanges of knowledge fully immersed students into the lifestyles of the people while promoting learning across different facets.

Similarly, O’Hare and Jayne are grateful for the students who were open and ready to explore and be present in the lives of the River People. O’Hare expressed her satisfaction with the students who embraced the cultural differences and made the trip a wonderful learning experience. Jayne mentioned that she was impressed most by the sense of acknowledgment the native people showed each other. Likewise, students who traveled on the trip were equally captivated by the people and the region.

Senior Amy Woychowski was gratified to have her group and the leaders giving reassurance. She added that the people there and those they met along the way “gave wisdom, life and spirit,” which made her experience more enriching. Woychowski feels that the study abroad offered new experiences as she was immersed in a “new culture and new lifestyle.” She maintained that the overall experience was “beautiful. Peaceful. A life based around living. A place where material wealth is not the end goal and acquiring the unnecessary only to desire more and feel forever unfulfilled is far from their visions.”

Another senior, Sarah Methven, described the trip as an amazing experience to becoming culturally aware.

“It’s indescribable to define; you have to go to fully understand how unique it was,” Methven said. She added that the bond established within the group was heartfelt and genuine. Methven was especially dismayed that she had to leave all the wonderful people she met there and the great food.

Similarly, senior Graham Ballard enjoyed the experience of Amazonia. “My favorite part of the trip was playing soccer with the locals on a sawdust field in the forest,” Ballard said. He was equally enthused when they would be ferried across the river on a boat and pick up locals along the way. He feels that experience alone helped him connect more with the people. A thrilling moment for him during the trip was having to cross a river that rose to their chests. Ballard remembers the group treading the waters slowly with their cameras above their heads.

For Jayne, the care the individuals and community leaders reflected towards each other served as a method of honor, respect and recognition for every individuals view on different matters. Likewise, they spoke highly of one another without any impression of “upmanship,” Jayne said.

However, there were some downsides to the enriching experience of the course. O’Hare emphasized that the trip was short. Students began picking up the language on the third week of the course and that coincided with the time they had to leave. O’Hare believes that in order to fully optimize the cross-cultural component, the course should be extended.

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