The International office had been talking about the visit for months. In typical fashion, the meetings with the delegation were accepted and plans made. So many things were happening on campus it was hard to focus too far ahead. We had events planned for two solid days, then a Friday trip and a Saturday trip before they headed home. As folks volunteered to help, it was not totally clear what would come from the visit. As you do in New Mexico, you make guests feel welcome and we worked hard to do that well.
Our first meeting with the top three officials from Colegio Tiradentes in Minas Gerais helped all of us better understand the vision that Cristhina and the teacher that introduced herself three years before had started. It was a chance meeting at a recruiting event in Belo Horizonte that led to this meeting in Roswell, NM three years later. As introductions were made and discussions commenced it became clear that COL Welerson, MAJ Claudio and MAJ Jovenil had come with an agenda and a vision for how our schools could work together. As we learned more about Tiradentes, it was refreshing to find another institution that was organized very much like NMMI. It is a military school, with cadets who wear uniforms and follow a code of conduct. Then, somewhat in passing he mentioned that their school system had over 25,000 cadets. Hold on, please clarify what you mean by 25,000. In reality the system has almost 30,000 cadets. Enormous, and a public school, which acts like a charter school in American terms. The opportunities for partnership, which sometimes don’t end up working out, definitely were possible with Colegio Tiradentes.
There were many meetings and the two school leaders came to appreciate each other greatly. A dinner hosted by the MG and Mrs. Grizzle was a highlight. There were several working groups and certainly areas where cooperation was not only possible, but palpable. The real concern with our cadets working together was the language barrier. Without an interpreter, it would be almost impossible as the only cadets on campus who spoke Portuguese were Brazilians. Equally, they had very few cadets who had more than a very basic English ability. In reality, this was the place to start and before they left campus we had initiated the approval process, in partnership with MAJ Webber-McCollaum to have two teachers from Brazil offer a high school level Portuguese class and two of our teachers teach English to their cadets, online with a planned exchange of teachers once a year for a yet undetermined period of time.
On the last day of the visit, when the meetings were done we were set to go on a tour through part of Southeast New Mexico. We were supposed to have a student interpreter, but that did not work out. In typical international exchange fashion, we used a variety of Spanish, which two of us knew and google translate to work to understand. We drove to the mountains for their first experience with snow, then back to Roswell. We had a few language issues. In English bear and beer can be very difficult to differentiate with any accent. We cleared up that there were bears in the mountains! On the drive back my Spanish with an American accent was in high gear with COL Welerson’s Spanish with a Brazilian accent. We managed to talk about everything from UFOs to the current conflict in Europe and the future of US trade partnerships with Brazil vs. current trade partnerships with China. Then we went to Whataburger for a quick bite since it was late and we were all tired.
Whataburger provided a moment where sometimes cultural differences are challenging. As a middle aged guy I usually order the Whataburger Junior as it is plenty to eat for me, especially with fries and a glass of tea. COL Welerson said that he would have what I was having and the other LTCs ordered on their own. Then the food arrived. The top dog at Tiradentes had a smaller burger than the MAJs and a cold war style standoff occurred. With MAJ Jovenil and MAJClaudio looking at the tray, then at COL Welerson, then back at the tray…COL Welerson had and incredulous look on his face as the pregnant pause continued unabated. I didn’t understand, so I looked at them all and said, “What”? To which we all ate our burgers and I thought how absurd it was for the size of a burger to matter. As in many cultural differences my first impression was all wrong…but I wouldn’t know the rest of the story until we sat in a restaurant for our last dinner together in Belo.
The next step was a trip to Brazil, which was a few months away. We worked to get ready, hosted virtual meetings with cadets and Colegio Tiradentes worked tirelessly to ensure a great trip. I don’t know that any of us were quite ready for what the Colonels had in store for us when we landed in Minas Gerais.