WISS Today Article

By Cooper Vardy, Grade 12

Being part of an international community can sometimes take us to places that we never imagined possible. From Cambodia, to South Africa, WISS students can be found all over the globe. Through these global connections, Cooper Vardy, Grade 12, had the unique opportunity to spend the summer as an exchange student in Brazil studying music and Portuguese. Here he shares a bit about his learning experiences in Brazil.

My escapade to Brazil also came about rather randomly. I had been studying Portuguese for a little over a year, self-teaching with occasional tutoring sessions from the school’s theater manager, Mr. Rui, and looking for a way to get to and survive in the country. By pure luck, I was introduced to, through the school CAS Manager, Mr. Cuccinello, Ms. Denise Malheiro, a native of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. Through this meeting came a long line of connections, culminating in the handshaking of Dr. Medeiros da Silva, a college professor from the Northeast of the country, who was attempting to begin a cultural exchange program between internationals and Brazilians and myself. I was ecstatic to be invited to take part in the program for a month.

The house in which I would spend four weeks was situated on the Northeastern coast of South America, outside the gorgeous, ocean-bound city of Natal, though it capitals one of the most economically depressed regions in the Western Hemisphere. Upon arrival, the most glaring fact, aside from the ‘winter’ heat, was how utterly unprepared I was linguistically. I could read and write, though I was nearly unable to hold conversation with locals, or even the doctor’s family, with whom I was staying. As a result of necessities, my ability to speak skyrocketed, though I could never call myself fluent, by the end of the month, I was speaking on politics with café patrons. Along with that was an introduction to farming techniques of the local populace, ring-planting, as well as being familiarized with the local cuisine, various types beans and chicken, as well as myriad fruit I cannot even hope to pronounce. Non-day-to-day experiences including the exploration of a colonial Dutch fortress, before their loss of the city to the Portuguese, or the attendance of a vaquerajada rally, a form of bullfighting, which involves two riders attempting to flip a sprinting cow by its tail. All in all, an unforgettable epoch.

What comes next is difficult to tell, I am not truly sure whether or not I have an answer. I hope to continue with the language I gained there, perhaps into university, and return one day to see how the village has changed. The journey definitely displayed to me, however, how far an individual will go to secure a better life; I will never forget the story of a man who worked fourteen hours a day, studied for four and travelled the rest to climb about to the position he holds now (the owner of the bull fighting ring). Truly an eye opening trip that taught a little bit about the human spirit.