Mariana Grassi’s love of teaching was evident as a little girl growing up in Brazil, where she used to “teach” her younger friends using a whiteboard in her home. Today, she teaches college students at Brookdale, where she is the institution’s first Fulbright Scholar.
Grassi, a recent graduate of the Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil, is working as a learning assistant in the Language Department for the 2013-2014 academic year. Besides providing tutoring and in-class support for students enrolled in Brookdale’s new elementary Portuguese class, she teaches weekly lessons about Brazilian culture. She also plans to start a Portuguese Club.
Grassi comes to Brookdale as part of the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program (FLTA). Sponsored by the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), the program aims to provide scholars with a chance to learn American teaching methods and experience American life while strengthening their teaching and English skills.
In order to learn more about American culture, Grassi is a Brookdale student, too. This semester, she is taking a French class and a conversational English class for non-native speakers.
Highly competitive, the Fulbright FLTA program chooses from among academically strong applicants between 21 and 29 from over 45 countries throughout the world. Grassi first became interested when her undergraduate institution hosted a Fulbright scholar. Grassi applied and was accepted, waiting several months to learn her placement would be Brookdale.
The Brazilian scholar said she had never been to the United States prior to arriving in mid-August. What’s more, her knowledge of the Garden State was limited. “I knew where it was on the map and that it was really small and close to New York,” she said. As part of Brookdale’s responsibility as a Fulbright host, International Center Director Janice Thomas picked her up at the airport and helped her settle in.
Grassi said there are big differences between life in suburban Monmouth County and life in urban Pelotas. One of the biggest is the limited availability of public transportation. As a student in Brazil, she recalls being able to travel anywhere in the city using mass transit. “Here, I can’t go anywhere without a car.”
American life is different economically, too, Grassi observed. She said she was struck by the affordability of automobiles and clothing compared to Brazil. She sees cultural differences, as well. “American students are more reserved than Brazilian students are,” Grassi said. “Americans are more individual.”
Grassi describes herself as a persistent person who does not give up easily and remains committed to anything she sets out to do. Born with a foot deformity that required her to undergo 12 different surgeries as a child, she refused to let it interfere with schoolwork.
“I never let myself down or fail when I had to be absent from school for long periods due to my surgeries,” she wrote in her application to the Fulbright program. “Sometimes it seemed to be too challenging because I had to stay at home for a long period to rest after an operation.”
Grassi, whose future plans involve opening an English school for underprivileged students, is enjoying her latest challenge, helping Brookdale’s language students learn Portuguese.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” she said. “I just love the campus.”