My decision to study Portuguese stemmed from my long-standing interest in Brazil, Brazilian culture, and my desire to study and visit the various ecosystems that encompass Brazil— particularly the Amazon. My experience as a Boren Fellow gave me a more profound insight into a side of Brazilian culture that most Americans never experience: life in a small agricultural frontier town in the Amazon region. Because I was far removed from the traditional tourist centers of Brazil, I had limited—almost nonexistent—contact with English speakers.
I was well-prepared for my Boren Fellowship, as I had previously taken Portuguese language classes at Indiana University, where I was also able interact with Brazilian research colleagues and faculty. While in Brazil, my language skills were primarily developed through day-to-day interactions with local residents. During my time as a Boren Fellow, I lived by myself, and I had to depend on my language skills and ability to learn quickly in order to survive and complete my work. My friends and fellow researchers with whom I worked also often acted as resourceful teachers in correcting my grammar and vocabulary, particularly in technical vocabulary related to the environmental research that I was undertaking.
I was fortunate to be enrolled in a program that allowed me to apply my previous research background in stream ecology and environmental science to the study of environmental issues related to water. As my language skills developed, my experiences were further enhanced through my research, which involved interviewing small family farmers living along dusty roads in the nearby agricultural area about land use, land cover change and water quality. Many of these farmers had limited English ability, necessitating near Portuguese fluency on my part in order to complete my research.
These interviews and interactions I had with the interviewees were among the most meaningful experiences during my time in Brazil from both a professional and personal standpoint. For example, one aspect of my research involved collecting and analyzing stream water samples for water quality changes over the course of one year. Following my sample collection and analysis, I returned to my study area to personally distribute and explain my results to each person whom I had interviewed. Through these experiences, I have realized that water quality and access to water are and will continue to be major global issues.
I am currently completing my Ph.D in environmental science at Indiana University. I am also pursuing federal job opportunities that will allow me to use my international background in the ecology and geography of water and land use, as well as my regional interests in Latin America and the Caribbean, in order to benefit agencies that pursue these types of topics as part of their work.
Written: September 2010