Meet Tom Sluberski, from the USA, who has both worked and travelled in Brazil. Read the following interview where he tells us about some of his most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers.
1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what do you do etc.?
My name is Tom Sluberski here on a temporary visa to do research and reporting on doping and drugging in athletics for the Associacao Brasileira de Estudos e Combate ao Doping. This is particularly relevant as the Pan American Games are to be held in Rio de Janeiro this July. I am also on the National Faculty of the United States Sports Academy and have been judging Fitness and Bodybuilding contests in the United States, Russia, and now Brazil.
In connection with ULBRA, the huge (over 100,000 students on more than 20 campuses) university, I also made some major presentations to Mercosur and Mercosul conferences, ABRALIC (the Brazilian Comparative Literature Association), went on a month long medical/research/governmental ship in the Amazon region (Rio Solomoes, Negro, and Amazon), and travel widely in Brazil.
I grew up in Ohio, but spent much of my career as a full professor at Concordia University in New York with teaching Sabbaticals for example in Russia (St. Petersburg, Siberia, and the Far East); Kuala Lumpur, Malasia; Hong Kong; Singapore; Germany; and study and travel in a lot of other places.
2. When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?
My first trip to Brazil was in 2002 and a total revelation! I had led numerous student travel tours to Europe and the Caribbean. Then a student travel company awarded me a free trip to anywhere in the world they had tours since the tour I led for them was a very successful bus trip form Milan to Capri with 4l students. I had already visited most of the places listed except Vietnam and Brazil. I am not sure why I had not visited Brazil before, but within three days after arriving in Rio de Janeiro in June of 2002 I knew Brazil was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I went to the airport early in the morning and bargained for day trips to places like Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, and São Paulo just to be sure my first impressions were accurate. When I got back to the States, I began working on ways to return full time.
In 2004 ULBRA (Universidade Luterano do Brasil) offered me a position, a free apartment, and a range of incredible experiences. After that I kept returning on the 6 month tourist visa. ULBRA tried getting me a Guest Professorship, but the Federal Police implied I would be taking a job away from a Brazilian. That led to my asking the most important fitness and bodybuilding Association in Brazil to help me get a longer term visa which they did.
3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?
The motto” of ULBRA has become my motto. BRAZIL: WHERE THE FUTURE HAS ALREADY BEGUN! I see Brazil as going in the direction I would like the future to be (politically, religiously, racially, socially). Oscar Niemeyer’s Monument to South America in São Paulo (which probably most tourists and residents miss) literally changed my life. He designed a huge topographical map of South America covered with Plexiglas over which you can walk. If you know Niemeyer, he is NOT just an architect! He is a propagandist in the best sense of the word. Half way across the map I realized THERE WERE NO BORDERS. There was no way of telling where specific countries were. He did indicate the incredible riches of South America. And as a Gringo, I realized that IF South America were united, it would be one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.
4. What do you miss most about home?
After almost two years here I can honestly say I miss only my family and friends. I resent any time I have to be away from Brazil! And I say that even after studying and living in some of the most wonderful places in the United States and the world.
5. What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?
Getting a longer term visa has been the most frustrating! I have offered to work for free as a university professor with outstanding credentials and experience, but even though I would not be paid, the Federal Police believe I would be taking a job away from a Brazilian. At one campus I was the ONLY native English speaking faculty person with a student body of 30,000. The rules are the same. A Brazilian “COULD” possibly fill the position.
6. What has been your most memorable experience in Brazil (specific incident)?
There are so many, but certainly that trip into the far reaches of the Amazon to document, inoculate, and register countless Brazilians who were in “no man’s land’ left an indelible impression. I almost wished I had studied medicine. I think I would have stayed on that ship as it plied those almost uncharted waters in a little known region of the country.
7. What do you most like about Brazil (in general)?
THE PEOPLE! If you have already printed it, skip this paragraph, but the BRAZILIAN CREATION MYTH is absolutely to the point! When God set about creating the world, the angels were all looking on. He began by giving Brazil the longest rivers (l0 of the 20 longest are in Brazil), the largest rain forests, the best beaches (5000 miles of them), oil, uranium, precious gems, no earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes). The angels were more than a little concerned wondering what was left for all the other nations.
Finally the Angel Gabriel asked, “God, what is left for the rest of the world? You have given Brazil the best of what there is?”
God waited only a moment to respond, “W A I T U N T I L Y O U S E E T H E P E O P L E!”
That is certainly the REAL treasure of Brazil. The earliest explorers’ written records comment on the beauty of the natives (see Americus Vespucci’s journal for example) not the gold or treasure they hoped to find.
At the first fitness and bodybuilding competition I was asked to judge (in 2004), as the teenage contestants (beginners) came on stage, I was astonished! I had judged and seen contests like this just about all over the world, but these were absolutely the most perfect human beings I had ever seen. Was the racial mixture perfecting the human form and figure?
Oh yes, fitness routines include music! And the Brazilians generally have rhythm and can dance (not necessarily the case elsewhere – the Olympics for example).
8. What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?
Kilo restaurants anywhere in Brazil!
9. Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?
The smaller ferries on the larger upper rivers of the Amazon are completely enclosed. I had no sooner asked why they would do that in such a glorious environment than a tropical storm hit almost completely engulfing the ship in wave after wave of water. The captain just smiled and continued steering the ship toward Codejas. I did not care much about the scenery in the midst of that storm.
10. What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?
The upbeat, positive, almost joyful way Brazilians live their daily lives, sometimes in circumstances that are far from ideal. What a contrast between the barefoot, laughing, singing children playing football in the favelas of Rio and often those in the slums of New York or Cleveland or Detroit!
11. How is your Portuguese coming along? What words do you find most difficult to pronounce/remember or are there any words that you regularly confuse?
DIFFICULT! I lived in Geneva, Germany, Russia, Malaysia – and none of those languages seemed this hard to master!
12. What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?
Try to spend time in a variety of places Brazilians live, study, work, and enjoy! Spend time on a university campus, live with a family, participate in a Samba School, take part in athletics, attend a Candomble ceremony and one of the newer Pentecostal or Charismatic churches.
13. What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in São Paulo (or anywhere else in Brazil)?
See and experience as much of the country as you can! Be sure to include the historic, natural, and architectural wonders of Brazil. I would hope that at a minimum visitors should absorb as much of Rio, São Paulo, Brasilia, Porto Alegre, Forteleza, Recife/Olinda, Natal, Iguau as their time permits, knowing there is more, so much more!
Try to be part of a Samba School in carnival. Take a tour of a favela (or better yet work with a group involved with them). Be part of a birthday celebration, a wedding, even a funeral if you know a member of the deceased family, a football match.
Try to attend a fitness and bodybuilding competition. Luis Henrique, Marlene, and Fabio Norte hold annual “Monarch of the Beach” contests in February in Vitoria, Espirito Santo. They are FREE and often a beach rock concert follows with a great chance to mingle with absolutely gorgeous and wonderful people!
BRAZIL: WHERE THE FUTURE HAS ALREADY BEGUN! I am only sorry that I waited so long to visit and now live in this glorious country. To quote some lines from their national anthem (by the way one of the best in the world ):
“Brazil, a dream sublime. Thy future mirrors this thy greatness. MORE LIFE IS TO BE FOUND IN THY GROVES. MORE LOVE IN OUR LIVES IN THY EMBRACE. Beloved land, Brazil. Patria Amada, Brazil.”
Are you a foreigner who has lived in, or is living or travelling in Brazil? Are you a Brazilian who has a lot of contact with foreigners and/or lived outside of Brazil? Are you interested in telling your story? If you would like to volunteer for our interview series, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Interview” in the subject. We will send you the interview questions by return email.
To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:
Sylvie Campbell – UK
Kathleen Haynes – USA
Matt Bowlby – USA
Alan Longbottom – UK
Eric Karukin – USA
Eddie Soto – USA
Kieran Gartlan – Ireland
Bryan Thomas Scmidt – USA
Emile Myburgh – South Africa
Bob Chapman – USA
David Barnes – USA
John Milan – USA
Chris Coates – UK
Matthew Ward – UK
Allison Glick – USA
Drake Smith – USA
Jim Jones – USA
Philip Wigan – UK
Atlanta Foresyth – USA
Lee Gordon – USA
Carmen Naidoo – South Africa
Lee Safian – USA
Laurie Carneiro – USA
Dana De Lise – USA
Richard Gant – USA
Robin Hoffman – USA
Wayne Wright – UK
Walt Kirspel – USA
Priya Guyadeen – Guyana
Caitlin McQuilling – USA
Nicole Rombach – Holland
Steven Engler – Canada
Richard Conti – USA
Zak Burkons – USA
Ann White – USA
Monde Ngqumeya – South Africa
Johnny Sweeney – USA
David Harty – Canada
Bill McCrossen – USA
Peter Berner – Switzerland/Brazil
Ethan Munson – USA
Solveig Skadhauge – Denmark
Sean McGown – USA
Condrad Downes – UK
Jennifer Silva – Australian
Justin Mounts – USA
Elliott Zussman – USA
Jonathan Abernathy – USA
Steve Koenig – USA
Kyron Gibbs – USA
Stephanie Early – USA
Martin Raw – UK
Sean Coady – UK
Hugo Delgado – Mexico
Sean Terrillon – Canada
Jessie Simon – USA
Michael Meehan – USA
Thales Panagides – Cyprus
Tammy Montagna – USA
Samantha Tennant – England
Ron Finely – United States
Bob Duprez – United States
Peter Baines – England
Youssef Bouguerra – Tunisia
Van Wallach – USA
Lesley Cushing – England
Alexander von Brincken – Germany
Hank Avellar – USA
Ed Catchpole – England
Penny Freeland – England
Yasemin de Pinto – Turkey
Amy Williams Lima – USA
John Naumann – England
Marsye Schouella – Eygpt
Rita Shannon Koeser – USA
John Fitzpatrick – Scotland
Liam Gallagher – Northern Ireland
Lorelei Jones – England
Adam Glensy – England
Tommie C.B. DeAssis – Japan
Aaron Day – Canada
Graham Debney – New Zealand
Silke Tina Tischendorf – Germany
Tanya Keshavjee Macedo – Canada
Frank de Meijer – Holland
Carl Emberson – Australia
Kim Buarque – Wales
Damiano Pak – South Korea
Jonas Helding – Denmark
Pari Seeber – Iran
John Milton – England
Ken Marshall – Australia