From Oberlin to Ipanema

September 26, 2013
Amanda Nagy
The world will see a lot of the Brazilian flag in the coming years, especially as the nation prepares to host two international events: the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Photo credit: Wikimedia

Beginning this fall, Oberlin has enriched its already thriving Latin American Studies program with a new sequence in Portuguese language and Brazilian studies.

The increased presence of Brazil-focused content and Portuguese language is part of a multi-year project that will better prepare Oberlin students for a world in which South America’s largest nation will be a major player in economic, political, and cultural spheres, says Sebastiaan Faber, chair of the program and professor of Hispanic studies.

The sequence consists of four courses in Portuguese and one English-taught course on Brazil. In addition to courses, the department will offer Brazil-related programming, such as speakers, films, and panel discussions. The courses are taught by Isadora Grevan de Carvalho, who is from Rio de Janeiro and holds a Ph.D from Brown, and Cátia Maringolo, a Fulbright teaching assistant from the São Paolo region.

For students of economics, Brazil is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, having been identified by Goldman-Sachs as one of a small group of major emerging economies known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South America). A multicultural nation home to nearly 200 million people, it is the largest producer of goods in South America, and many schools in Spanish-speaking countries are offering Portuguese as a second language. Brazil is also preparing to host two international events: the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“Oberlin has always had an interest in Brazil. We regularly send students abroad through study away programs and the Fulbright program, but now we have financial support to offer Portuguese,” says Faber.

The department received funding for the initiative from Eugene Rostov ’61, who, as a partner with the international law firm Baker & McKenzie, spent a large part of his career in Sao Paulo. While living and working in Sao Paulo, Rostov completed the equivalency exams for high school and a Brazilian law school so he could practice law there. Although he retired from law practice six years ago, he continues do consulting work that takes him to Brazil and other parts of the world.

Rostov says Brazil is one of several countries that haven’t received the attention they deserve from the United States. “Students should be interested in Brazil not only at Oberlin, but because of its future importance in their lives.”

He points to many other areas where Brazil holds global significance. For those focused on the environment, more than half of the planet’s rain forests are located in Brazil; in terms of energy, Brazil leads the way in development of alternative fuel and is the world’s biggest producer of ethanol. For those studying politics, Rostov says Brazil is a recent and fascinating case study of the transformation from a military dictatorship to a democracy. And the multiracial composition of Brazil’s population provides a wealth of material across disciplines.

As a complement to the language instruction, Oberlin is spearheading a new study away program in partnership with the, Council on International Educational Exchange, a major study abroad provider. The idea is to place students in Brazil immediately following the first semester of language study. Ellen Sayles, Oberlin’s director of programs for international study, says the college plans to offer this program in German and French, as well, immediately following the first semester of language instruction.

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