Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Discovering a new world

Wheaton senior wins Fulbright award to Brazil

Alexis Nieves '14 discovered the attraction of Brazil in a Wheaton classroom. Next year, he will explore the country first-hand.

The senior will spend the next year in Brazil through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship program. He will be assigned to teach English at one of the country’s 52 federal universities, as well as study the country’s educational system and culture.

“I find Brazil fascinating because it is a country with a bright future. It is leading the charge up the economic ladder at the heart of South America, with a growing presence and influence in international affairs,” said Nieves, who credits a course on South American history taught by Professor of History John Bezis-Selfa for introducing him to the country and its culture.

The opportunity to teach English to students at a Brazilian university brings together Nieves’ interests in the potential for education to redress social inequality, the ways in which culture influences teaching and learning, and service in the U.S. diplomatic corps.

“Brazil’s status as a rising global power makes it particularly important that U.S. policy makers have first-hand knowledge of Brazil and its people and cultures,” he said. “As a future Foreign Service Officer, it is truly an honor and distinction for me to serve Senator William J. Fulbright’s mission.”

The Brooklyn, N.Y., resident’s intention to join the country’s foreign affairs service has already been acknowledged with his receipt of the Thomas A. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, an award that provides undergraduate and graduate scholarship support for students intending to pursue diplomatic careers.

The prospect of teaching also holds appeal for Nieves who has taught English as a second language to middle school students and at a summer camp near his home as well as at a nonprofit organization in Cordoba, Spain where he spent a semester during his junior year.

Nieves traces his interest in teaching and education to his mother’s encouragement to study when he was young. “She would sit down with me late at night to help me with my homework,” he said. “During those late nights, as she taught me new words and basic reading skills, she transferred to me the characteristics needed to become an effective educator: humility, patience, originality and creativity, to name just a few.”

While in Brazil, the Wheaton Posse Scholar plans to conduct research on education reform in South America’s largest country, as background for his graduate studies. “I’m eager to gain first-hand accounts from educators and policy makers in order to learn more about the impetus for and progress of Brazil’s efforts to develop its educational systems.”

He also plans to immerse himself in Brazilian culture. “I really want to learn how to dance Capoeira, and perhaps become actively involved in the large soccer culture so deeply rooted in everyday life in Brazil,” he said, also mentioning such renowned sites as Rio de Janeiro’s famed Christ the Redeemer statue as places he plans to visit while living and working there.

First, however, Nieves, who is fluent in Spanish, must learn Portuguese to prepare for his year in Brazil. He already has a plan for that. “This summer I’ll be interning at the U.S. Department of State, where I hope to interact with U.S. diplomats who have served in Brazil, and where I hope to take Portuguese classes.”