Languages & Cultures professor consults for ACA in Brazil

By Becky St. Clair on September 26, 2018

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Adventist Colleges Abroad (ACA) currently maintains 11 campuses around the world, in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Last spring, Sylvia Rasi Gregorutti, chair of the department of world languages and cultures, ACA board member and ACA representative at PUC, received an invitation from the organization to serve as a consultant for their new campus in Brazil.

“In an effort to provide a better environment for students in the ACA-Brazil program,” explains Gregorutti, “the organization voted to transfer the campus from the large Universidade Adventista de São Paolo (UNASP) in Southern Brazil to the Faculdade Adventista de Bahia (FADBA), a smaller school in northern Brazil, about two hours from Salvador in the state of Bahia. That’s like moving it from Chicago to New Orleans. Culturally and weather-wise, it’s a major change.” The shift to Bahia will offer ACA students greater engagement with not only their classmates and professors, but also with the local culture and people.

In order to fill her consultant role, Gregorutti was told she would need to complete the full six-week ACA -Brazil student program on the new Bahia campus. She agreed with the condition that her 13-year-old daughter come along. “I was student and consultant at the same time,” she laughs, “as well as wearing my mommy hat.”

As a language professor and linguist who speaks several languages, Gregorutti is an ACA alumna herself, and has participated in trips to Italy, France, Argentina, and Spain in the past. She was excited to experience the Brazilian version of ACA, and to have an opportunity to develop her Portuguese proficiency.

Her consultant role had Gregorutti offering teacher training to the instructors throughout the program, as well as participating in all cultural experience trips the students take. She assisted program director Jean Ouro as well as the professors as they refined their orientation, placement, lesson plans, excursions, and other elements to better serve the ACA population.

“Overall it was a very good experience on many levels,” she says. “Although I’m an experienced traveler, it was humbling to make some of the same mistakes my ACA students make, I realized how easy it is to forget ‘best practices’while traveling and adapting to a new culture. It was humbling to be a mistake-prone foreigner all over again and at the same time to feel so respected and valued by my colleagues there.”

This Summer Program served as the pilot program for ACA-Brazil, FADBA welcomed their first Academic Year group this month.

“There are definitely cultural differences to get used to, and if you ask with openness and curiosity, they’ll explain,” says Gregorutti. “The realities in Brazil, and in that part of the country are quite different than ours. By immersing yourself in the culture hosting you, and being honest, inconsistencies in your own culture as much as the other become clearer.”

Gregorutti admits it’s not all fun and games living in a new culture; you won’t always get everything right. She relearned this particular lesson when she was asked on the spot to speak to the FADBA faculty during their colloquy—all in Portuguese.

“To really learn, you have to be willing to be a fool,” she says with a shrug. “I’m an educated, professional woman, but I honestly felt like a real idiot standing there with error-filled Portuguese coming out of my mouth. I reminded myself we have to get over ourselves, let go, and accept imperfection to really learn to communicate. It’s a lesson in humility, it teaches empathy, and just going for it enhances your learning experience exponentially.”

What isn’tconsulting for ACA? A vacation.

“People think you just go and drink coffee in cafes,” Gregorutti admits, “but it’s a hustle! In Brazil, it was sometimes sweaty and uncomfortable. There were also dead times. The wifi would be down so I couldn’t work. It was clumsy finding things we needed and getting simple things done—just likeit would be for a foreigner in the States. My daughter or I would accidentally commit a cultural faux pas and would need to figure out how to correct it.”

She adds, “A lot of that is similar for ACA students who dare to experience something different. Yes, there’s travel, but there’s homework, studying, and exams. Sometimes things are uncomfortable. But it’s an adventure, and you’ll learn a lot.”

Gregorutti sees a lot of potential in this new Brazil location for ACA. The Afro-Brazilian artistic and musical heritage there is strong, as is the expressive, loving nature of the people. Gregorutti said she tried to wear her student hat as much as she could, and noticed things she wanted to change about her own teaching. She notes experiences such as this allow you to see the world through another set of glasses. “They offer you a new way of being yourself,” she explains.

Gregorutti’s next steps include helping recruit a student missionary to help with the English program at the FADBA campus. As with almost all ACA programs, there are interesting internship experiences available to ACA students in the local community, possibly including dentistry, nursing, and media. She is serving as a liaison to explore the possibility of bringing a group of Brazilian students to PUC for an intensive language-and-culture experience.

But most importantly, Gregorutti always loves helping students discover themselves and the world around them through the study of foreign language and especially study abroad.

“It’s very freeing to learn other aspects of who you are,” she says. “Different cultures teach you that. I have a well-developed Spanish persona, Italian as well, and even French. Now I have a way to be a little Brazilian, too. It’s one of the fantastic things about learning to communicate through a different language. You can learn new ways of being—besides making new friends you would never have otherwise met.”

For more information on the ACA program at PUC, contact Gregorutti at sgregorutti@puc.edu. You can also go to the ACA website acastudyabroad.com. For information on serving as a student missionary, contact Fabio Maia at fmaia@puc.edu.