Smile- You’re Flying!

On the flight to Ibitinga

We had one of the first flights out that day and the only pair with a connecting flight. It didn’t sound like a big deal but in a country that doesn’t speak much English we thought it might get interesting. Gina reminded us that it was important to pay attention to gate changes- a common occurrence in Brazil apparently that can take you by surprise.

We had an almost two hour layover in Sao Paulo airport… should be plenty of time to find the gate and get a bite to eat.

The flight to Sao Paulo was delayed and hour- now we were a bit nervous. However, I did get an aisle all to myself- not bad.

We disembarked on the tarmac then onto a bus- this equals more time that we really didn’t have…just keep thinking that it will be fine… get inside- find a monitor- rush to flight- no problem.

We found the gate on the monitor right away- Gate 2 downstairs. We hurried to a small waiting area packed with people and no a/c. None of the monitors displayed the right flight number or destination. We looked at our boarding passes… time to board. Back up the stairs… stare at the monitor. Maybe there is another gate 2? We still have to find the correct gate and make the bus out to the plane. Time to hurry and find a person to that speaks English. Down a hallway and up to the first counter. She speaks perfect English- Gate 2.  Are you sure? Yes. Back down the hallway- back down the stairs into the heat and sweat- past boarding time and none of the signs have changed. I got in a line and figured they won’t let me get on the wrong flight right? The guy checked my ticket. You’re on the next flight- this gate- 15 minutes. But the board said it was on time. Just wait- the board will change. You are fine. Good to know. Exact time is just a su

We waited and made the flight. Actually we were almost first in line. Good flight too. We were very proud of ourselves for navigating the airport and making the flight without screwing up or causing an international incident. We knew Emily (our trip organizer for IREX and appointed den mother) would be very proud of us.


“Hi- Why are you here?”

Early morning today!

We went to a public high school today called Elephante Blanco or the White Elephant school. Never did find out why it’s called that… most schools seemed to be named after people.

The first thing we noticed was the parking lot and grounds were unkempt and it had more trash than we are normally used to seeing. We came to this school because it is a high performing public school.

We met administration and they took us up to the teacher’s lounge… the building was dated and needed a lot of repair. It is evident they do the best with what they have… sounds familiar.

We were given a short tour of the school. The classrooms needed a bit of love but everyone seemed happy to be there. Students were very familiar- they were milling around, looking at phones, etc. We saw a few rooms and noticed a lack of technology- it is ridiculously expensive in Brazil. We did see a sign in the computer lab that prohibited the use of the computers to go onto Facebook, Twitter, and so on- very familiar. Seems like students using computers to waste time is universal.

We were divided up to observe classes. I was lucky enough to go alone. I met with the Portuguese language and literature teacher and followed her to class.

The class was pretty normal then I heard a student next to me say “Hi, How are you?” in pretty much perfect English! “Fine, how are you?” I asked. “I am doing very well. Thank you. Why are you here?” Good question… but first “Your English great… can you answer some of my questions?”

I just met RJ.

The teachers later told me that he excels in English but pretty much just gets by in everything else.

Cool kid…

He was the first student to ask why we are here in Brazil… It has been the  number one question.

Here is a great interview from RJ!

Are you sure this is the right place?

That night we decided to see some live music.

Our sense of adventure led us to get into a cab that drove through a sketchy neighborhood and ended up in an empty dirt parking lot staring at a circular concrete building and with a hand drawn sign that said: Live Music

One must have a little faith I guess… Our tour guide Hoberto said it should be good. Half of the group left in the same cab they came in, I don’t think they even got out when they saw the place.

Barbara, Chris, Noah and me decided to get tickets and wander inside. How bad could it be? If is sucked we could just leave. Somehow Noah managed to get us half-price tickets and we went inside. It was a fairly large concert hall with a large stage and tables set up with numbers on them. We sat at table 60 and ordered some food and drinks. About a half-hour later a classical guitar player, an accordion player, and a stand-up bass player came onstage and started playing classical style Brazilian music.

It was amazing…they were such great musicians and perfectly in sync. It had the perfect vibe. It was cool to see something new and not part of a tour or in a tourist area.

A little faith indeed… chalk up one for us and our sense of adventure!

Amazing Brazilian Music

The most beautiful school I have ever seen…

Breakfast at the hotel is pretty good- a buffet with just about everything you would want. The fresh fruit is great and they offer all different kinds of ham and salami. There are a few differences- the yogurt is slightly runny and the juice bar is unique. My new favorite juices are cashew juice-yes like the nuts. Apparently the nut part is just the bottom of the fruit and the meat of the fruit makes the juice. They also have pineapple and mint, and chlorophyll juice-which from what I can tell is wheat grass juice mixed with something that makes it a sweeter. Good way to start the day.

Today we visited one of the most beautiful schools I have ever seen…anywhere. Colegio Marista de Brasilia is a private high school that has facilities that would rival any school in the US. You could tell just from the outside the differences between a local, public high school and this school. We took a tour and learned about their philosophy. They are trying to educate the whole student focusing on creating students that can question, do research and have a social conscience.

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I also learned a bit about some famous Brazilian authors that they study. One of the most widely read is Machado de Assis from the 19th century- his book Dom Casmurro is regarded by a few teachers I spoke to as the one of the best books in Brazilian literature. I just put it on my Amazon list. Here are a few others…

The Embassy Visit and Meeting a Senator.

The next day we put on our best clothes to go to the U.S. Embassy for a ‘Welcome to Brazil’ meeting and some information about new exchanges and opportunities for Brazilians and Americans.

We left the embassy and went to the congressional offices to meet Crisatovam Buarque; a senator in Brasilia who is a big advocate for education. He was instrumental in starting a program called Bolsa Familia, which helps pay families for keeping their kids in school. It has been a success, as more children in impoverished areas are attending school than before. However, like any other policy, some like it and some don’t. We were fortunate to meet him and he gave us a few of his books as a gift. That night he was heading to the Rio +20 conference. Jealous.

We had a little extra time and Gina arranged for us to have an impromptu tour of the capital building. We got to see inside the ‘cup’ and the ‘bowl’. Both rooms had sessions going on and our guide explained some of the inner workings of what was happening.

Long trip in the infamous Brasilia traffic…. Wow! I thought DC was bad. It took us almost an hour to go the same distance it took 10 minutes on Sunday!

Tomorrow is exciting- We are finally going to see a school.


We landed- We toured- We didn’t want to sleep…

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We landed in Brasilia- Brazil around 6:30 in the morning after a long turbulence-filled flight and we were both excited and tired. The airport was a slice of modern architecture with its open air reception area, cool concrete, and exposed steel beams with glass panel- this type of work is ubiquitous in Brasilia.

Brasilia is a fully modern planned capital city. It resembles an airplane, a bird, or a cross. The whole city is divided and planned to be a utopia.

We were met by Gina and Roberto our American and Brazilian guides. We hopped on the bus and drove through the capital to our hotel for check in.

We had a couple of hours to kill and some went up to their rooms to rest, the rest of us went out. We will sleep when we get back to America.

A few of us decided to take a walk to the TV tower and the craft fair. We met with group later for lunch and then took a tour of Brasilia.

More to come from our adventures in the schools!


Students always tell me they love hearing my stories in class. The experiences we have in our lives help to create the stories we tell. I love experiencing new ideas, people, cultures, and places that will eventually become a ‘story’ I will most likely use in class.

I always tell students that they have to travel- to go out and see the world. “You got to go there- to know there” ZNH.

I am currently in Brazil- In the middle of creating another story. I am learning about the people, culture and educational system while on this trip.

I hope you follow my adventure and I hope it inspires you to have one…

Let me know when you do…I want to hear the story!

My favorite story starts like this

By the way- The views on this blog are entirely mine and in no way represent IREX-TGC or the State Department.