Traveling to Salvador, Brazil on my first education abroad trip was an experience that can't all be told. This education abroad was so extraordinary, filled with many experiences, learning opportunities, and self-reflection. Not only was I able to take in all the beauty and history behind Salvador's city, I was able to learn about its culture, people, government, education systems, and so much more. Being an African American female, I was very excited and interested to learn and meet people like me in Brazil. I succeeded in doing this. Salvador is filled with many people who look like me and have many struggles that my community and I have, and still do. While in Brazil, I was able to visit many schools and colleges and engage with some of the students there. I also found out in these spaces how similar we actually are. I would have never imagined finding someone like me in another space. One thing that stuck out to me was that everyone that I met embraced their true beauty. Very few women wore makeup, a majority of people wore their natural hair, and lots of people expressed themselves and their culture through dance in what Americans may call the most random places. Another thing that I loved about the culture of this country was that everyone lived in the moment. To me, North America and many Americans are very dramatic and exaggerate a lot of things that go on in society. For instance, Brazilians value their culture so much, and this is something that we don't see as much in North America. The energy and vibes in Salvador were very warm. The people I've met, whether in schools or on the beach, were filled with love and laughter.
When learning about Brazil's education system, it shocked me a lot. Receiving an education at grade 12 and below is very similar to those in the States. Private schools are private schools and public are public; of course, private schools tend to help in higher test scores and better college prep. However, when we look at colleges and universities, it is the complete opposite than ours. In the States, private schools are more costly and are harder to get into. In Brazil, students take a test called the ENAE, similar to our ACT. This test places a student at certain colleges. Usually students who had the privilege to go to private schools in K-12 get to go to public universities, which are free but harder to get into. This leaves people who didn't get high enough scores on the ENAE to go to private universities that offer little to no funding. This percentage of students usually are black. What an education system, right? This however is not too much different than in the states. It is harder for African Americans students to get into certain schools or pay for them without being in debt at the end. On the bright side, there are many programs such as YSP, the Young Scholars Program that give first generation college students the opportunity to obtain a 4- year degree and finish with little to no debt. When in Salvador, we visited the Steve Biko Institute. What they do at the school is similar to what YSP does. It's sort of like an institute to prepare college students for college and find ways for them to get there. This institute is used by blacks, considering they are the majority being negatively affected by the education system. I learned about Steve Biko whole at Ohio State and had an understanding of why they chose to name an institute after him. Even though he was an South African Activist, he traveled and left his mark, trying to make the best opportunities for blacks. One would think that we sat in lectures when visiting schools, but that was the opposite. The information we learned about were more like conversations, connecting and trying to really understand Brazil's history and why it came to be what it is today.
Other than the Steve Biko Institute, we visited a high school in Cachoeira. This was a two hour drive from where we stayed, it is in the countryside of the country. This place alone was also so beautiful along with the people. At the high school, this was one of the most interactive conversations we had. The students were so interested about what it was like living in the states and being Americans. They wanted to know so much about our lives and education systems as much as we did theirs. Other than learning about our similarities, we showed each other different dances and songs we like. The teachers and students sung us a song and we sung one back to them. They showed us a few of their dances, which many of the people in my group participated in, including myself because I love to dance. We also taught them a line dance, which they loved. We needed to stay at the school longer than expected, but that was okay because the time we spent with these students was one in a lifetime and an experience I will remember and cherish forever. We also got to take a few different tours as well. While on the first tour, when we went back to the area to shop, we visited a Catholic Church and the carnival museum. Most of the tour was outside, but these are two major places that's r were able to go into. We learned about the history of this massive Catholic Church and how it was built. Enslaved blacks built this church out of pure gold. A horrific fact about this church is that after it was made, blacks who had built it weren't able to utilize it as the whites did. They had to use tear entrances when trying to attend services. Another fact about this church is that it is still used today, which I think is cool. When we visited the carnival museum, we saw different costumes and attire used during the carnival festival, which had just taken place a week prior to our arrival in the county. The museum was super cool and intriguing to me as I love to dance and can wait to go to an actual carbial festival. In this museum we went into a room and put on hats, beads, flowers, and other pieces of attire and learned Afro-Brazilian dances that they do in everyday dances.
On this trip we saw and learned so much, some that cannot be explained, but overall I not only learned about Brazil's culture and history, but I also learned about myself and how to be vulnerable to others. This would be a great trip for other scholars in not only YSP but in ODI so they are able to witness people facing similar life challenges that they are and finding ways to cope and better their situation. Many scholars like myself have never had the opportunity or finding to be able to travel abroad, and with the subsidized cost and scholarships available for this trip, I think they should take advantage of these opportunities as they are once in a lifetime. Even if someone decides to visit Brazil or any other country on their own, the experience with the people you get to know not only from our university, but the specific people we met on this trip will be life changing and once in a lifetime. I am so grateful to have been selected to go on this trip and I took every advantage to learn as much as I could. I also learned so much about myself as well, which I am very grateful for. Now that I have had this opportunity I am able to share my experience and encourage others to try and study abroad as well.