The aim of the Brazil Geography and Environment program is to offer an integrated learning experience that uses field research methods to explore Brazil’s environmental, economic, and cultural geography. The program is designed for Geography, Environmental Geosciences, and Environmental Studies majors. The experience was offered to students in 2005, 2008, and 2010. Watch the movie, Study Abroad in Brazil, of our trip (click on the title image above) and check out the photo gallery from previous trips: Brazil Photo Gallery!
Program Instructor Christian Brannstrom plans program activities with the highest possible regard for student safety. He is fluent in Portuguese and has been traveling in Brazil for research or family visits since the early 1980s. He has used this knowledge and experience to establish a program that he considers safe enough for his own family members. Students share rooms while staying in modest, mid-range hotels that offer breakfast. The cities students stay in have Internet cafes, pharmacies, and restaurants. Some cities, such as Lençóis, are particularly pleasant, especially the hotel Estalagem Alcino where they stayed in 2005 and 2008.
This study abroad program entails extensive travel and outdoor activities. It begins in Salvador, Brazil’s colonial economic center, now a major metropolis (population 2.4 million) with a world-renowned historical center known as the Pelourinho. From Salvador, the group travels north, staying on the coast (Praia do Forte; Imbassaí), where they study the spatial organization of tourism and disputes between hotel development and sea turtle conservation. They then visit Lençóis (425 km west of Salvador), a former colonial-era diamond-mining center that has become an ecotourism destination. Next, students visit Barreiras (population 125,000; 900 km west of Salvador), a city that borders a leading-edge agricultural region to the west and impoverished small-scale farmers to the east. Finally, the group travels to the national capital, Brasília, where they visit a city block planned by leading modernist architects and visit a sprawling satellite community on a subway-based tour. In 2008, students met with a diplomat in Brazil’s foreign relations ministry. From Brasíl ia, they return to the U.S.
For an interactive visit to Brazil, download the brazil.kmz file and open it in Google Earth.
Problem-Based Learning (PBL)
The Brazil Geography and Environment study abroad program has no classroom; rather, it is structured entirely around problem-based learning (PBL) tasks, not lectures and PowerPoint slides. The PBL tasks begin with Brannstrom providing brief instructions and students having read a short text. Then, they carry out specific tasks that require them to obtain information from their surroundings, reflect on what that information means, and write their findings in journal format, making reference to the required readings. The methods they follow further their knowledge of field geography (GEOG 450), while the content furthers knowledge of the geography of Brazil (GEOG 489).
One PBL task used on prior trips involved students describing how people created territories on a public beach in Salvador where vendors, young couples, athletes, and the elderly create discrete spaces that change over time. Students drew a sketch map and described how the beach space changed over various periods. Another task, in Lençóis, required students to question English-speaking tourists to develop a questionnaire on the economic geography of tourism. Overall, students explore as far as their curiosity, personal safety, and language skills allow. Tasks in the 2010 program included repeat ground photography, interpretation of historical cartography, environmental conflict analysis, urban land-use mapping, and place-marketing analysis.
What Students Had to Say
The problem-based learning (PBL) approach was implemented in the 2008 program, and students responded very favorably. In an exit survey, they overwhelmingly agreed with the statement that PBL tasks “increased my ability to observe people and places.”
One student wrote:
“The program definitely increased my desire to travel and study other countries’ politics, culture and economy. I would love to continue working with geographic topics on the side, and I loved this style of learning much better than the classroom.”
Another student wrote:
“The PBL approach was MUCH BETTER than lecture-based—it is better to experience the country hands on rather than be ‘noted up’ in a room for eight hours only to read about the city you are in.”
The table below summarizes other survey responses:
*5 = Agree Strongly; 1 = Disagree Strongly
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