Brazil is the largest country to have Portuguese as an official language, but what is Brazil known for? Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) João Schmicheck is from Brazil and has come to South Bend not only to teach for the Portuguese Interdisciplinary Minor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, but to help all of us to learn not just what Brazil is known for, but to stretch our understanding beyond that. It is with his help that the Notre Dame community can learn how the beautiful Brazilian landscapes influence the culture, the depth of character of the Brazilian people, and how the education system in Brazil can improve the lives of its people.
João doesn’t come from one of the major urban centers of Brazil like Rio de Janeiro, but hails from Curitiba, the capital city of Paraná. Located just south of São Paulo, Curitiba is renowned for its preservation of parks, public spaces that unite architecture and the environment, and harmonizing man with nature. And since one of the things that Brazil is known for is its beautiful landscapes from majestic mountains to beautiful beaches to tropical rainforests, Curitiba’s focus on natural beauty has made it one of the world’s best examples of successful urban planning. This unique environment means that João can show how the landscapes of Brazil influence the culture.
Language is so much more than just a textbook. Language is a whole new world of experiences and things to enjoy.
João’s love for languages began at a young age, when he learned about the videogame Harvest Moon on the PlayStation 2. After begging his mom for the game, he turned on his PlayStation only to realize that the only language available in-game was English. Not to be deterred, João grabbed a Portuguese to English dictionary and began to learn the words of different foods, translated the in-game dialogue, and gained familiarity with English. Despite having no previous experience with English, Harvest Moon provided João with an immersive language experience and effectively helped João become comfortable with a second language. He still continues to play video games in English, including games like Rune Factory and Stardew Valley, where he is constantly exposed to vocabulary and sentence structures in a method much more enticing than textbooks and flashcards. It is João’s persistence that illustrates the determination of the Brazilian people.
João’s teaching style reflects the environment where he began his English education both at home and at school. He grew up navigating the chronically underfunded public education system, and João would often feel lost in the language classroom and didn’t always enjoy the typical methods of teaching language. “Language is so much more than just a textbook. Language is a whole new world of experiences and things to enjoy. Finding ways to consistently study a language in ways that are enjoyable, in conjunction with a willingness to feel uncomfortable and make mistakes, is the key to a successful language learning experience.” He was fortunate enough to eventually attend a college preparatory school which helped with his admission to the Federal University of Paraná, where he began his pursuit of his passion for language and discovered his love of teaching. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in teaching English and Portuguese, and holds a Master of Arts degree in Letters. He is currently pursuing his Doctorate of Philosophy in Applied Linguistics.
Here at Notre Dame, João works as a teaching assistant in the Portuguese department, assisting with teaching classes, grading, and tutoring in Portuguese. Fridays are the highlight of his week, as he gets to fully teach his classes. It is in these settings that he feels the most energized, connecting with his students, providing inspiration, guidance, and shaping the next generation of Portuguese speakers.
Finding ways to consistently study a language in ways that are enjoyable, in conjunction with a willingness to feel uncomfortable and make mistakes, is the key to a successful language learning experience.
In addition to teaching, João is enrolled in classes in French and language education teaching methods. Additionally, João was involved in community engagement research through the Graduate Institute for Engaged Teaching and Research over the Fall Break, where he worked to brainstorm ways to connect Notre Dame with the broader South Bend community and inspire South Bend’s youth.
Reflecting on this hectic schedule, João sees his experience at Notre Dame through Fulbright as having an integral role in shaping his future. While his PhD is currently on pause during his stay in South Bend, João is flirting with the idea of attending graduate school in the United States to continue analyzing the foreign language classroom as a setting that promotes social justice. While João is unsure of the specifics of his next step, he would love a future career that blends language teaching with community engagement, leveraging his role as a teacher to help empower those who are forgotten. It is this belief that education can help elevate the poorest in Brazil that shows us the love and passion of Brazilians for knowledge….beyond what Brazil is known for.
The Portuguese Interdisciplinary Minor gives students the opportunity to learn Portuguese through interactive, dynamic and communicative classes with lots of cultural activities, including the Portuguese Language table, trips to a Brazilian Churrascaria in Chicago, Carnaval celebrations, Festa Junina and much more! The CSLC offers tutoring in the Portuguese language, and if you want to try learning now you can download the Mango app for free!
The CSLC is dedicated to the advancement of linguistic proficiency and cultural awareness for students, staff, faculty, and spouses in all languages across the Notre Dame community. If you would like to learn more about studying languages and cultures, Fulbright programs for Notre Dame Students, or cultural events sponsored by the many groups at Notre Dame, visit the CSLC website, or call (574) 631-5881.
Luke Van de Walle (‘24) is a political science and global affairs major who specializes in current event writing and conducting interviews.
Featured image photographed by Jennifer van Antwerp, CSLC Center Associate.