Brazilians reflect on Fredonia experience

A Brazilian accent was added to the growing international student population at the State University of New York at Fredonia during 2014, thanks to the Brazilian Scientific Mobility Program that places high-achieving students in U.S. colleges and universities.

Ten computer information science students from South America’s largest country were enrolled in classes in the spring and fall terms, as well as both summer sessions. What they found at Fredonia was a welcoming and enriching campus experience, first-rate professors dedicated to their students and a friendly surrounding community.

“You meet a lot of people from many different countries and you live in a place that has a completely different culture and language,” said Jose E. da Silva Tenorio. “It’s awesome!”

The BSMP, formerly known as Brazil Science Without Borders and administered by the Institute of International Education, an international education and training organization, provides scholarship support to students. The Brazil contingent at Fredonia attended intensive English language courses at Jamestown Community College in the prior semester before joining the Fredonia campus as non-matriculating students.

“All faculty members said they were excellent students, very well-prepared,” said Reneta Barneva, chair of the Computer and Information Sciences Program. “We also found them to be very hardworking, respectful and many were also interested in pursuing graduate school in the United States.”

The greatest challenge confronting the students – most had never lived in a foreign country – was adapting to the language, but that hurdle was scaled relatively quickly.

“Speaking with people was difficult at first, but after a while you just get used to it and how people talk,” said Airton J. Gessner.

“At the beginning it was difficult, but I got used to it in one month,” added Felipe A. Reis Guedes Alves. “I liked the professors and the campus in general, and the people from here are friendly because (Fredonia) is a small town.”

Students were impressed with the quality of instruction by Fredonia faculty. “All the professors at Fredonia were excellent, but I had the opportunity of having more classes with Robert Olson and Stephen Raghunath, and I can say that I really liked their classes,” Gessner said. “They know how to put together the theory and practice, and that is very important in our technology field.”

Simply living on campus in a residence hall was a new experience for these students more accustomed to living in houses or apartments near their universities and relying exclusively in public transportation to get around. At Fredonia, they resided in Gregory, Igoe and Eisenhower halls.

Another adjustment for students coming from the southern hemisphere was adapting to a much-colder than normal winter in Western New York. But those chilly conditions simply increased their access to popular outdoor activities, such as ice skating and downhill skiing.

“We don’t have snow in Brazil, so that was really different. Snow is beautiful, but it’s too cold for me,” said Gustavo E. Reis Guedes Alves.

On the extra-curricular side of campus, the students played soccer at the intramural level, participated in the Relay for Life cancer fundraiser and attended assorted concerts and sporting events. “One activity that I enjoyed was attending some soccer games,” Gessner said. “They made me remember Brazil where, as a kid, we used to play soccer in any corner we could find.”

There was also a side trip to Darien Lake theme park in Buffalo to see the American band Linkin Park and more ambitious journeys to New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Gessner acknowledged that his view of the United States changed as a result of the time spent living and studying here. “One perception I had in Brazil was that every American was selfish. I completely changed my mind; most of the people here are friendly and always willing to help,” he said.

“I would be very happy to have the chance to come to the United States again. I would, maybe, choose a warmer place, but I’d like to return,” added Gessner, who plans to work as a web developer and ultimately earn a master’s degree.

Jessiel Hacke has a girlfriend in the United States, so he says he definitely plans to return. “I want to work in Brazil and get more experience and then come back here to find a job and live here.”

At the end of the fall semester, the students were treated to a farewell reception by the Computer and Information Sciences Program. At that informal gathering, John Kijinski, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, shared his thoughts on language assimilation with the students. All agreed that immersion greatly facilitates acquisition of new language skills.