PLACES to Take Cultural Studies Students to Brazil

This summer, ten Andover students and faculty will embark on a journey across Brazil as part of PLACES, a new interdisciplinary summer program designed by the Brazil Faculty Learning Community.

Students will interact with the Brazilian students, explore the Amazon forest and work with a nonprofit organization called Imaflora to learn about sustainability and agriculture, said Flavia Vidal, Instructor in English and Director of PLACES.

PLACES stands for people, landscape, arts, culture, environment and sustainability.

“All of these concepts are definitely represented in the curriculum of the program and the curricular goals that we are trying to accomplish. [The acronym] reflects the multidisciplinary nature of what we are going to be doing with the students,” said Vidal.

Although no knowledge of Portuguese is necessary, all students planning to participate in PLACES will be required to complete Brazilian Cultural Studies, a term-contained interdisciplinary course taught by Vidal and Peter Cirelli, Instructor and Chair in Music, that focuses on literature, film, art and music from 19th-century and 20th-century Brazil, according to Vidal. Because students from all grades can audit Brazilian Cultural Studies, underclassmen will have an equal opportunity to enroll in the class and ultimately participate in PLACES.

“We realize that when students go to a place without knowing anything, it can take away from the experience. The program isn’t just about coming and experiencing culture, but [about] participating in an academic, intellectual experience that starts on campus, then continues in the country where they can explore what they have learned on a more personal level,” she said.

The program was organized by Vidal, Peg Harrigan, Instructor in Art, and Anna Milkowski, Instructor in Biology, all of whom are part of the Brazil Faculty Learning Community.

The idea for the program arose when the Global Perspectives Group organized and sponsored a series of seminars for faculty professional development, in which the faculty had the opportunity to investigate a particular topic in 2010.

“Because Brazil is such an important country in the world, economically, politically and culturally, and because global programming gave us an opportunity to [explore] areas that we hadn’t focused on before up until now, we felt that it was our responsibility to start thinking about ways in which we can make our students more familiar with Brazil,” Vidal said.

Following the seminars, a group of faculty formed the Brazil Faculty Learning Community to together develop their interest in Brazil through readings, discussion and participation in events related to Brazil in the Boston area, according to Vidal.

Harrigan said, “[Brazil] is culturally important and fitting in the global economy. It also has abundant resources and it’s important to be aware of sustainable practices that will preserve the natural resources like the Amazon itself. We have a responsibility to be mindful of how places can be sustained for future generations.”

Although the exact itinerary is yet to be decided, the program will likely span two to three weeks. Students will travel to cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Piracicaba and Xapuri, documenting their experiences through writing, data collection, interviews and video and photography, according to the program description on the Andover website.

This year, donations from the Class of 1959 will fund the trip. Applications for the program will be released mid-December, and they will be due shortly after winter break. Financial aid will be offered to students who qualify.