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Hear from our students

UFMG Summer School 2020

At the start of 2020 Warwick was invited to nominate two students to attend the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG)'s Summer School on Brazilian Studies. After a competitive selection process, the two successful students from Warwick's School of Modern Languages and Cultures were awarded scholarships co-funded by UFMG and Warwick. Warwick's student participation in UFMG's 2020 Summer School is a further expansion of our partnership which stems from a strong foundation of academic collaborations. Building on a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the two institutions in 2016, the partnership has gone from strength to strength.

Due to the COViD-19 pandemic UFMG hosted a special edition of this flagship event, with the entire program carried out through online platforms.

We spoke to Warwick's Bradley Montgomery and Brianna Falconer-Nash to see what they thought of the Summer School, how they adapted to online learning and what they have gained from this unique experience.

Bradley Montgomery, 2nd year, BA in Modern Languages (German, Spanish and Portuguese)

Bradley MontgomeryHow did you feel when you found out that the UFMG Summer School would have to be online?

After the initial joy of finding out I had been accepted onto the course, I then received the heartbreaking news that due to the Covid-19 pandemic we were unable to travel to Belo Horizonte and attend the Summer School in person. The course was instead going to be converted into a virtual Summer School, where we would still be receiving the same tuition on Brazilian studies, but through various Zoom meetings.

However, right from the start I thought UFMG’s organisation in terms of keeping us all in the loop was excellent. As well as sending us emails and informing us about the Summer School's Twitter page, they also set up a WhatsApp group including both staff and students so we could keep updated.

It was through this group that an online meeting was arranged between the students, which served as a meet-and-greet session. During this call we all shared the screen and introduced ourselves, saying where we were from, where we studied, and our hobbies. It was pleasing to see how warm and friendly everyone was, especially as we were all from different time zones and some had made the effort to converse, even though it was early morning in their country at the time.

We also played a little game on WhatsApp, where we had to guess which city we all came from using clues. For instance, as I am from Birmingham, the clues I offered were ‘the second largest city in the United Kingdom’ and ‘the host of the 2022 Commonwealth Games’. The ice had been well and truly broken at this stage, and knowing everyone was so kind made me even more excited for the course, which officially started the next day.

How did the UFMG Summer School begin?

UFMG SS MelloWe had a brilliant start to the Summer School - a presentation by the famous Brazilian journalist Patricia Campos Mello, followed by a Q&A session.

Hearing her candid words about such sensitive topics such as the sexism suffered by female journalists in Brazil was a real eye-opener. False information and fake news was a prominent topic also, with Covid-19 heavily linked.

As someone who has lived in a European country their entire life and only tends to hear about the state of affairs in Europe, this talk emphasised how important it is to keep up to date on what is going on outside one’s home continent.

Did you get to use any of your Portuguese during the week?

Yes, on the third day we had our first Portuguese lesson. We all introduced ourselves in Portuguese, and enjoyed an hour of conversation in this beautiful language, along with watching a few clips to practice our listening comprehension. We were then set some activities to do after - again, the organisation was great, with Google Classroom serving as the hub for all of our language learning - recordings of the sessions were found there, as well as all of the assignments we were set and the notes our teacher wrote for us.

Our daily Portuguese class featured a nice mix of content - we had sections on grammar and pronunciation as well as exploring lots of different topics including typical Brazilian snacks, such as ‘bolinha de queijo’ and ‘coxinha’, Brazil as a tourist destination and a focus on past tenses (an area of grammar that can often bring difficulties).

Our penultimate Portuguese class focused on Brazilian idiomatic expressions - this is a subject I always look forward to, as every language (and dialect as well, for that matter) has different idioms that are quite humorous to look at literally. To follow on from this, our daily homework consisted of filming a short video where we chose an idiomatic expression from our language and explained it in Portuguese - I chose ‘to put the cat amongst the pigeons’. As all of our prior activities had been written, this was an unexpected task, and one that was lots of fun to carry out.

The Portuguese classes were superb, as they presented me with a chance to learn Brazilian Portuguese (to this point I had only been learning European Portuguese) - every task I submitted was marked with constructive feedback. A lovely gesture at the end of our final Portuguese class was our teacher sending us all an individual feedback sheet, in which she was not only very complimentary about our progression, but also gave us some tips for the future.

These classes have given me the determination to continue studying Portuguese from Brazil alongside Portuguese from Portugal.

Do you think you that you were able to experience Brazilian Culture in a virtual environment?

We had a great lecture on Brazilian Culture which followed on from the previous day's focus on Brazilian History and more specifically, the culture in Minas Gerais in the colonial period. There were lots of interesting customs during this period, the one that fascinated me the most being the procession, an event where every person was placed according to their role in society. The most important people had covers for shelter and horses to ride on, while those who were deemed less important had to take part on foot.

If we had gone to Brazil, we would have been able to visit Inhotim, a contemporary art museum. Although we were not able to go in person, we were treated to a virtual guided tour of this stunning place, which I would describe as an art gallery crossed with a botanical garden. As well as gaining a view of its many acres, we gained an insight into some of the artists whose work features there.

When it is possible to do so, would you still like to visit Brazil in person?

Definitely. Towards the end of the Summer School we had a virtual guided tour of Pampulha, a region of Belo Horizonte, and then the UFMG campus. It was quite bittersweet in the sense that seeing the photos of the stunning scenery and stylish campus made me sad that I hadn’t been able to go there, but at the same time it gave me even more motivation to visit in the future, when the pandemic is over.

Were you able to build relationships with the other participants despite it being an online experience?

UFMG ParticipantsAs the cancellation of going to Brazil had been difficult to take, I realise now that I had wrongfully written off any hopes of making new friends through this Summer School as I wasn’t going to be able to meet anyone in person. I am so glad that I was proved wrong, as every single participant was keen, talkative and took an interest. I am now connected with several of the other students on social media, which is a bonus.

The closing event of this terrific course was a ‘luau’ - during this event we all introduced each other again, in case there were still some people we hadn’t met at this point. We were then treated to a few musical performances by some very talented Summer School participants.

What I found so great about this session was not only the fact that it was a fitting way to bring the Summer School to an end, but also that students and staff were involved - it made us feel like a close-knit community, one that has overcome adversity in the form of a global pandemic to still come together and share our cultures with each other.

Which part of the Summer School program did you particularly enjoy?

I loved every minute of the session on Brazilian Geography, especially the section where we looked at Brazil state by state from North to South.

It was a really packed session, with landscapes, geology and population being just some of the many categories covered.

This is such an interesting yet different way to learn Geography, and I would love to learn like this in the future.

Do you think that you have learnt any new skills from this unprecedented experience?

I believe the online format has improved our communication skills. As we couldn't talk face-to-face or visit a staff member's office, we had to utilise and make the most of the platforms we had (WhatsApp, Google Classroom, Zoom, emails, Twitter) to get in touch and ask questions. In a strange way, I think our people skills have improved too. A lot of our socialising was done on the WhatsApp group chat, and it is harder to express yourself through online messaging, as you can't show emotion through tone of voice like when face-to-face. When talking about ourselves or asking questions on the chat, we had to make sure we sounded friendly and not blunt. The Portuguese daily homework tasks, such as the video on idiomatic expressions, also allowed us to exhibit some creativity.

What would you say to other students considering whether to take part in a virtual summer school?

I would encourage them to go for it as it is something to add to your CV that can make you stand out. Students shouldn't be put off by the fact it is online, either. The tuition is still of the same quality, and everything is well organised. Other students on the course will still take an interest in you and want to meet you, so don't ever think that doing an online summer school will give you no social opportunities, as I am now following around twenty of my fellow UFMG summer school participants on social media.

Brianna Falconer-Nash, 2nd year, BA in Modern Languages (Spanish, Portuguese) and Linguistics

BriannaBrianna kept a daily journal documenting the UFMG Summer School. If you are interested in finding out more about this particular school you can read her diary here.

How would you describe your experience of a virtual summer school?

I really enjoyed the virtual summer school overall. Of course, there were some elements of it that were made difficult to carry out online (the time difference, technical difficulties) but I thought it was still very rewarding and I learnt so much about Brazil despite these things. The virtual tours were a great idea, but they did really emphasise what we were missing out on, I was particularly disappointed to miss the Carnival! Having language lessons alongside the lectures made this experience very well-rounded and I would fully recommend anyone who can to take part.

How has this experience influenced your thoughts and feelings about international education?

This experience has shown me how important international education is and how the insight you gain from the culture of others can influence the way you see your own. What was particularly fascinating, which illustrates the need for international education, is the talk by Patrícia Campos Mello who stated that Brazil's president creates false new stories to further his agenda. If we didn't know better, as an international audience, we may believe these news stories without context and education.

Do you think that you have learnt any new skills from this unprecedented experience?

I became a little more confident with Portuguese after the classes, but I learnt how to learn online a little better. I developed my own system for watching and listening to the lectures while taking notes and reading questions.

What would you say to other students considering whether to take part in a virtual summer school?

I would wholeheartedly recommend it! Although it will never be the same as a face-to-face school, you can still learn so much from a virtual summer school, and there may be unseen benefits - in my case it was cheaper not to fly to Brazil anyway!