For Brazilian students Samuel Assuncao, Laura Carvalho, and Marina Naves, the last several weeks at Wiscasset Middle High School have been filled with firsts.
It was the first time they had been to the United States. It was the first time they had seen snow. The trees, the climate, and the school were all very different, they said.
“But teenagers are the same everywhere,” Naves said. Assuncao, Carvalho, and Naves chose to spend their summer vacation, which begins in December in Brazil, taking classes at Wiscasset Middle High School.
Jan. 28 marked their last day at the school, but the friendships they made from their time here will continue, they said.
Their time in Wiscasset was a cultural experience not only for them, but also for Wiscasset Middle High School students, Spanish teacher Jorgeanne Barley said.
Barley was largely responsible for bringing the students to Wiscasset. Assuncao is Barley’s nephew. A native of Brazil, Barley returns every summer to visit family. When in Brazil, her husband runs a language school, where Naves studied English for about five years.
Carvalho’s father was an exchange student in the United States in the mid-1980s and was hosted by Barley’s husband. Carvalho and Naves asked Barley if they could visit during their break; Assuncao was told of the pending visit and invited as well.
The superintendent gave the students permission to attend classes at Wiscasset Middle High School and for three days a week, Naves, Carvalho, and Assuncao got a taste of American high school life. Wiscasset high school students also got a taste of Brazil.
“(Wiscasset students) learned from the inside about South America,” Barley said. “They had a chance to see diversity through the eyes of other teenagers.”
When Assuncao, Carvalho, and Naves obtained their visa to visit the United States, officials at the U.S. Consulate in Brazil laughed at them when they said they would be visiting Maine, Barley said. “I’m very appreciative they made the decision to come here,” Barley said.
While at Wiscasset, Carvalho, Naves, and Assuncao studied the principles of democracy, history, and biology, among other classes. The school was very different from their schools in Brazil.
Carvalho, Naves, and Assuncao attend different charter schools in Brazil. High school is only three years, but middle school is longer, they said. The school day is also shorter, with students attending in either the morning or the afternoon, they said.
While the school day is longer in Wiscasset, Carvalho, Naves, and Assuncao were surprised at the amount of freedom students had at the middle high school. Students are allowed to choose their courses, something students in Brazil cannot do, they said. Students are also allowed to move around more during the school day.
While the school day is only five hours in Brazil, the time there is spent behind a desk studying, they said. Art and music are not a part of the curriculum.
School in Brazil resumed after summer vacation on Monday, Feb. 1, which is when Carvalho, Naves, and Assuncao began their senior year. All three said they want to attend college.
In Brazil, the best universities are the free ones, they said. The free schools are also the hardest to get into. College admission is largely based on the results of a single test students take toward the end of their senior year.
“I’m already dreaming about (the test),” Carvalho said. “It’s a big pressure.”
The three students attended basketball games, toured the area, spent time with friends and Barley’s family, improved their English language skills, and experienced snow for the first time. They stuck out their tongue to feel the snow melt on it, made snow angels, and went on a snowmobile ride, they said.
Of all the classes they took at Wiscasset Middle High School, world cultures was their favorite, because they were able to share their life in Brazil with their classmates in Wiscasset. The prepared a presentation on Brazilian food, music, and traditional dance.
It is a popular misconception that Spanish is the national language of Brazil, Barley said. The misconception no longer exists for the students that interacted with Carvalho, Naves, and Assuncao. Students now know that Portuguese is the national language of Brazil.
Many students and teachers did their best to learn some Portuguese, Assuncao said.
An assembly with music and dancing marked Carvalho, Naves, and Assuncao’s last day at the school. Principal Peg Armstrong brought her Djembe drum to play along to a West African song performed by the chorus, which one of the Brazilian students participated in.
“It was really fun to see the kids’ interactions,” Armstrong said. “It really opened up the community to a different culture.”
“Culturally speaking it was very rich for both the Americans and the Brazilians,” Barley said. “They gained a lot from each other and made several friendships that will last forever.”
Carvalho, Naves, and Assuncao said they intend to stay in touch with the friends they made at Wiscasset Middle High School through social media.