For those of you who don’t know, I am a Spanish and ESL teacher at an International school in Sao Paulo. Before arriving here I figured I would be teaching mostly American children whose parents work as missionaries or in companies. Well, there are many students from the United States here, but surprisingly, most of my estudiantes are Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Brazilian (or a combination of these nationalities). Before arriving here I didn’t know that Sao Paulo had such a big Asian population–in fact, the largest Japanese population outside of Japan is in Brazil, and 70% of them reside in Sampa (Sao Paulo). This statistic is well represented at my school, and mixed with the Swiss, Italian, Colombian, and Argentinean students, this place is a literal melting pot (or perhaps the more appropriate term, salad bowl, since many maintain their culture’s characteristics while integrating with Brazilian/ American culture).
Linguistically, this school is a researcher’s paradise. The students are taught all subjects in English, other than their Portuguese and Brazilian history courses (taught in Portuguese, obviously), and by the time they are in high school, most of them speak English as well as any native speaker—boasting slang and perfect pronunciation. All of my AP Spanish students are non-American and have never set foot in an Anglophone country, yet they speak PERFECT English. Not only that, but they speak, Portuguese, their own native tongue (Korean, Japanese, German, etc.), and are learning Spanish. It is amazing- kids speaking four languages by the time they are 15!!
Once a year, the school celebrates this cultural diversity by holding an International Festival. Student parents from all of the national communities work together to create booths serving typical cuisine from their countries. Guests purchase a wristband at the entrance and are then entitled to eat to their heart’s content. Representatives at this year’s festival included Japan, China, Korea, Italy, Brazil, Switzerland, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia. Naturally, I decided to take advantage and spend most of my time with the colombianos and argentinos. I’ve befriended many of these mothers and actually meet with one of them from Argentina on a weekly basis. Other than preventing Portuguese from taking over my brain, It’s been interesting to chat with her and learn a little more about Argentina. Practically all of my Spanish speaking background is rooted in Spain, so being exposed to some of the other países hispanohablantes has been great! (I don’t count my one week in Honduras or the 3 hours I spent in Tijuana when I was 8—not really sure what my parents were thinking there!) So far she’s introduced me to an awesome cartoon, Mujeres Alteradas by Maitena, and the film El hijo de la novia. For you Spanish speakers, it’s been hard to get used to vos, dale and che. I’m used to my vale, venga, and vosotros!
The international community and multiple languages are certainly my favorite aspects of this school. However, another important part is the contribution many of the parents make to the Sao Paulo area. All of the proceeds from the International Festival were donated to various Christian mission groups with which student parents are involved. These missions include children’s orphanages, initiatives to help kids in favelas stay away from drugs and prostitution, prison reform, and many others. Hearing the parents’ testimonies at the event was inspiring, and gave me more insight to the needs in Brazil, especially the large cities. I respect everything that these parents do, because working in the favelas and impoverished neighborhoods is not the easiest thing and requires much sacrifice. It was a blessing to help benefit their organizations while celebrating the global community at our school. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday, even if it was technically a work day!