Professor Reber Dunkel, Ph.D. (sociology), Professor Alphine Jefferson, Ph.D. (history) and 20 students traveled to Brazil as part of the college’s 2009 January Term (J-term) program. While in Brazil, students visited “must see” tourist attractions such as the magnificent Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf) and Corcorvado (Hunchback) mountains, the latter with the Christ the Redeemer statue high above Guanabara Bay and Rio’s favelas (slums) and posh Ipanema beach far below.
We traveled by bus, aptly named Marcopolo, over 3000 miles roundtrip from Rio de Janeiro to Salvador, Bahia. On the way we toured the Pataxó Indian Reserve of Jaqueira, learning about ethnobotanical medicine and a variety of bird and animal traps and joining in a tribal ritual dance. Another overnight stay in Ilheus allowed a side trip to CEPLAC, the Brazilian national research center for cacao (cocoa), located in the Atlantic Rain Forest, with the fringe benefit of seeing a sloth “infirmary” and serpent laboratory.
The trip to Brazil was a vital component of Dunkel’s Globalization, the Environment and Sustainable Development in Brazil and Jefferson’s Diasporic Connections of the Atlantic System: Brazil and West Africa. Students saw firsthand how the Brazilian society is unevenly articulated into the global economy. In some ways Brazil is more advanced in terms of alternative energy and response to climate change than the United States. On the other hand, a vast discrepancy remains between urban and rural development, thus offering the challenge of simultaneously addressing modern urban problems such as drugs and crime and traditional rural development obstacles in providing services and infrastructure. And racial and ethnic equality lag behind the vitality of the richly diverse population. Brazil, which has the second largest population of African descent after Nigeria, provides a wonderful opportunity to experience the historical and cultural legacy of the Diaspora—the human population dispersion from the African continent.
While in Brazil, students kept journals, chronicling daily their observations and reflections. Upon their return to campus, and as a culminating project, students worked in groups of four or five to create thematic Web pages, combining text, photos and audio. Their Web page projects provide a composite story of students’ pre-trip expectations, their in-class studies and their travel experiences.