Working at the university, (Universidade Federal Rio Grande do Norte or UFRN) Andrea and I come across many students who are excited that there are actual native English speakers amongst them. We get just as excited too. For those unfamiliar with our jobs I always find it difficult to explain what exactly are jobs are and what our duties entail. I find when I am explaining most people have a glazed expression over their faces and smile and nod. (More about that later.) So, what exactly are you doing here?
Well my official title is as follows: Fulbright English Teaching Assistant or ETA. According to the Fulbright website : “ETAs will be assigned as language-learning assistants working up to 20-25 hours per week, but they will not be responsible for teaching entire courses. They will develop and lead language learning activities and classes under the supervision of faculty, and promote U.S. culture through cultural and social programs. The Fulbright Commission will match the grantee with the appropriate host institution.” That is the longer explanation. We basically tell the students that we are here as English Teaching Assistants and we come to NuCli and Ágora classes to help with the professors with lesson plans and workshops. In addition to working in the classrooms, we hold a weekly Conversation Club with varying topics which is definitely one of the highlights of my week at the university. The NuCLi classes are a federal program that promote language instruction. Brazilian universities receive foreign language teachers and students from all over the world. According to the IsF website : “Developed by the Ministry of Education (MEC) through the Department of Higher Education (SESu) in conjunction with the Higher Education Personnel Improvement Coordination (CAPES), the program without Borders Languages (ISF) aims to encourage learning languages, in addition to providing a comprehensive and structural change in the teaching of foreign languages in universities of the country.” In short, I am here serving as an ambassador to the United States but I always emphasize to the students that my perspective and my experience in the United States is not reflective of the entire country and my own experience in the states is certainly unique.
There are about 72 ETA’s all over Brazilian federal universities and each region has a mentor. I am in the Northeast Region and I have one mentor who is in Fortaleza, Ceará with 3 other ETA’s. There are 2 ETA’s in Teresina, Piauí; João Pessoa, Paraíba; and here in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte respectively. In addition, there are ETA’s in cities such as Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belem, Belo Horizonte, Florianópolis, Vitoria, Curitiba, Porte Alegre and countless others. It’s an awesome program because not only do we have ETA’s in just about every part of the country, we all also offer specific perspectives and can bring so much to the table. Everyday when I go to work not only am I teaching the students, but also I am learning so much about Brazilian culture, history and the way of life. I love my job.