Student Reflections on Higher Education in Brazil

city in Brazil

Student Reflections on Higher Education in Brazil Education Abroad

Students participating in the 2020 Higher Education in Brazil Education Abroad program give their thoughts on the experience.

Karen Christina Castro

Karen Christina CastroThe Brazilian sun radiates warmth and boldly showers across the landscape. The rain is ever dynamic, dancing from light to thunderous. These are Brazil's two climates. Below the clouds lie streets of art, fresh food, and hard work. The landscape is blooming with colors and to mimic its creativity, the cityscape shares graffiti. The art sends a message of the people, their names, their political ideologies, and their imagination. On the cobblestone roads, in the area of Pelourinho: “Bom dia,” “Obrigada,” and body language were forms of communication. Because in Brazil, greeting one other is an everyday experience to engage in.

Like the bright emerald vibrant flora, the energy from the land flows through its people. The land holds years of history, and Salvador, Brazil has kept its records. Salvador is 80% black, and within the community, exists a known religion called Candomblé. In Mexico and Cuba, it is Santería. In the United States, it is Black Magic. Candomblé is spoken in the tongue of Yoruba, the words are an exact match with modern-day Nigeria linguistics. Passed down from spoken word… African food, language, and spirit is weaved into each day. It is an open religion, that is tolerant of a range of sexuality. There are food offerings given to the spirits of the Orixás, which may take form as an “Acarajé”. This is a Salvador favorite dish, the mass is shaped from beans and then it is fried with dendê (palm oil). Within the restaurants of traditional foods, the Bahiana's in flowing white canvas dresses are embroidered with flowers and their head wraps and headdresses share in the same lively print.

The people never ceased to amaze me in their strife. Black people compose most of the “Favelados”, this word is comparable to shanty town people. The neighborhood is of the lowest socioeconomic status. However, people live in this location right across the richest class. The roots of this division lie in the dichromatic clash of Eurocentric favoritism within a black majority state. Racial tensions have dated back since colonial times. However, one black leader, whose statue is honored in Salvador stood out to me: Zumbi dos Palmares. He was a leader in the fight against slavery. In parallel and passed down practice is Capoeira. A Brazilian martial arts fighting-dance style, that was created from the Slavic people during post-colonization. Primarily the men perform with music and practice great feats of acrobatics while wielding sticks or at times swords. The music is always a polyrhythm of sounds. Percussion, strings, and vocal harmonies swing alongside the intensity of the performers. Similarly, Samba is a dance and genre that lights up the nights in Salvador. This is when the smiles get wider and the body movements shift and gyrate with the tempo. My feet were not sore in these moments, because the environment gave me more than enough energy to spare.

I will forever treasure the conversations, the cultural and personal challenges, and the overall experience that was my first study abroad. Thank you to my Brazilian family: Clara Ramos, a Brazilian woman who established the Institute of Clara Ramos Brasil (ICR Brasil). Our tour guides Freddy and Sandro, Clara's assistant Lou, amazing dance instructor Antonio Cozido and the wonderful students who made this experience real.

Jeryka Diaz

Jeryka DiazBefore attending this study abroad to Salvador, Brazil, I knew Brazil to be a tropical, Latin country full of life and rich in culture and having an emphasis on things such as Carnival, the World Cup and Olympics. I wasn't truly aware of the economic status of the country or the racial inequalities within Brazil. What pushed me to apply for this program was stories I was told by many who've been on the trip. I heard things such as I'd leave as a new person and have a greater perspective of the world. Although I tried having no expectations before attending this trip, I had hopes I'd evolve and grow while in Brazil. Ultimately it was an experience I wouldn't trade for the world. I felt it came at the most perfect time in my life and has truly allowed me to not only grow, but also enhance my perspective of the world.

I left Columbus stressed, struggling and feeling unfulfilled in life. When arriving in Salvador, Brazil I realized it is not this modern and wealthy city. Instead it's full of history and culture, which is visible within the architecture of the buildings, colors and murals on the wall. From seeing vendors on the street, children barefoot playing soccer in the old courts at all hours of the day, and watching capoeira, the Brazilian way of life meant living in the moment, connecting with one another and embracing their African roots. Brazilians don't carry the burden that Americans do to always feel the need to be occupied and productive. Instead Brazilians incorporate their culture in all they do. They truly have a radiance from within and I saw so much talent, hustle and aspiration within everyone.

I am now returning to Columbus with a motivation and dedication to my goal of teaching abroad. Although I was scared of the unknown, Brazil welcomed me with open arms and gave me the gift of appreciation for Afro-Brazilian culture and the history of Brazil. It allowed me to meet amazing souls and create connections I would have never made without this opportunity. I will forever be grateful for this experience and thank ODI and OIA for allowing me to be part of this trip. I'm so blessed to have met the people I have and learn about Afro-Brazilian culture and education system. I will forever cherish the memories I've made.

Christian Hines

Christian HinesAs an educator and current graduate student, my time in Brazil was both transformative and reflective. The beauty of the country was breathtaking; however, what stuck with me the most was the educational infrastructure and the persistence of being able to make progress with limited access. Afro-Brazilians are resilient and poised to make active change in their country. The Steve Biko Institute and its students were a highlight of the Study Abroad Program. Founded in 1992, it is a school that is dedicated to focusing the centering of its education in Black Consciousness in Academia and promoting anti-racist pedagogy, but the Steve Biko institute also positions Afro-Brazilian students to take space in places of power that may not have been attainable for them.

The visit with the students and the corresponding visit to the school was impactful to me because I think as an American, we can sometimes become blind or desensitized to the plight of other people in other countries. We become focused on our issues and our trials, and we can forget that there are global issues that still require us to take up arms in support, but there are also victories and wins that we can celebrate together. Seeing the Steve Biko Institute and the legacy that it continues to create inspires me to do more beyond the classroom. I want to aid in transforming education globally and providing access to academic resources for students, teachers, administrators, etc. who may not be able to attain those things within their current means. The Higher Ed Program in Brazil was more than just a trip for me, it was an insightful, exploration and a call to arms that there is much work to be done, and with each person playing a part it can create a ripple effect of change.

Deztini Johnson

Deztini JohnsonTraveling 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.

​Kyle McKinney

​Kyle McKinneyBrazil was such a life-changing experience for me. Let me first start by saying that having the opportunity to have been selected for this trip was such a blessing, and I am immensely grateful to have had this experience. I knew that a trip like this, wouldn't come again, so I took that leap of faith and went for it.

Once we touched down in Salvador, it was clear that there was something special about the atmosphere. It felt as if I was home. Throughout the week this feeling only grew and made my stay in the country feel much more empowering. The Brazilian way of life is something I quickly adopted, from the welcoming people, the food, the samba, and the overall hospitality. One major lesson I picked up from the trip from our dance instructor, Antonio Cozido, was it all starts with your attitude and allowing yourself to be open to new things, and loving yourself can really change the scope of your narrative when it comes to moving throughout life. This lesson made my experience much more impactful.

One huge takeaway I want to emphasize about this trip is the richness and immense presence of Black culture within the city of Salvador. It is something that is embraced by the citizens of Salvador and the term “Negro” is a term of endearment that many Soteropolitanos (citizens of Salvador) use to describe themselves. Growing up Black in America as a descendant of formerly enslaved Africans, I have had my struggles with appreciating my identity of Blackness due to the emphasis of cultural division put amongst Black people in America rather than unity (which has been in embraced in more recent years). The unity I once longed for in America I found in Brazil and has impacted me to one day return to this beautiful nation.

One final remark I would like to make is a thank you to all of our amazing trip advisors: Grace, Dr. Moore, Dr. Steve, and Dan, as well as our amazing Brazilian tour guides: Clara Ramos and Freddy. Clara and Freddy invited us into their nation with such open arms and “baptized us” as Brazilians. I am forever grateful for this opportunity and have walked away empowered by the beautiful culture and way of life of this nation.

Valdeoso Patterson

Valdeoso PattersonThe study abroad program to Brazil was one of the single greatest experiences that I have had in my life. I loved being able to learn about a new culture, especially from people who are a part of that culture and in their own country. Brazil is a beautiful place, and the people there are even more beautiful. Hearing accounts from people who had been on the trip in the past is what inspired me to apply for it. Because of this, once I got accepted, I had high expectations for the experience I would endure. All of those expectations were surpassed. The staff that accompanied us on this trip, simply put into one word…were amazing. Grace, Dan, Dr. Moore and Dr. Steve did a great job of leading us and were always there for us. I felt as if I had been a part of their families and known them for years. I also couldn't ask for a better Godmother than Clara Ramos. She'll always be a part of my memories.

The biggest lesson that I'll take away from this trip is about the Brazilian way of life. As we were eating lunch one day, one of the engineering students said “The Brazilian way of life is about keeping your head up no matter how bad the circumstances. We don't feel bad for ourselves here, we just keep it moving until we get it done.” That resonated with me because I feel like that's how I lived my entire life, I just have to keep my head up and face everything with an open mind.

I know I'm over 300 words but I want to end my reflection with one final thought. The people who I went on this trip are the ones who made it the most enjoyable for me. I only knew a handful of them before the trip, but now I consider each and every one of them a friend and wouldn't have wanted to be in Brazil with anyone else. The experiences we shared will last a lifetime, which as I stated on Day One was what I was looking to get most out of this trip. So thank you ODI and OIA for choosing me to be a part of this trip; I am forever grateful.

​Ca’Marea Snipes-Thomas

​Ca'Marea Snipes-ThomasBrazil was a home away from home. My time there was accompanied by loads of laughs, unimaginable sights, moments of reflection and many instances of connections/networks being created. I honestly cannot articulate how much this trip has changed my perspective on foreign countries and how they operate. This was my first official trip to another continent.

Being around the people in Brazil was so affirming. Firstly, Brazil has the largest Black population outside of Africa. So whenever I would walk on the streets, I would feel a sense of pride almost. I could walk anywhere, do anything and feel comfortable while doing so because I was not looked at as being different. The people who were on this trip with me were open to getting the most out this experience as well, so it made our time there much richer. After day two of the trip, I became a little homesick and my peers noticed. Everyone was dedicated to ensuring that each person on the trip had the best time, so they engaged with me as frequently as possible to keep me motivated.

The trip's theme was Higher Education and how Brazilian students navigate educational processes. Our group spent a lot of our time interacting with students and visiting many schools/institutions. As someone studying education, I came into the first couple of spaces with the mindset to “critique” their education system. But after analyzing the structure of their system verses ours, I realized that I could not effectively learn by doing that. Both the United States and the Brazilian Education systems have their flaws and could both use improvement. But each system works for their people.

Brazil is going to be an unforgettable experience. Not only because it was my first trip abroad but because of the people I traveled with, the connections that were made, the culture, food, and most importantly the growth and ongoing reflection produced from this experience.

I would like to thank all of the people that went on the trip with me, the leaders (Ohio State's & ICR's Staff), everyone we met and spoke to, and lastly Clara Ramos for organizing this trip and ensuring that we got the most out of this experience.

Rachel Thompson

Rachel ThompsonI'm so blessed to have been chosen to take part in this life-changing opportunity. Before going to Brazil, I was going through one of the hardest times in my life. I was at the point where most days I couldn't even get out of bed and open the blinds. My confidence was low, and my will was even lower. On this trip, I met some of the most genuine people I've met in a very long time. The compliments fellow students gave me and each other were real and unprovoked. The spirit of uplifting flowed freely and was unreserved. The people on this trip actively made efforts to make each other more comfortable, confident and enjoy their time. The Brazilians we encountered were the most beautiful people in the world, inside and out. They were patient and warm; if there were misunderstandings it was because of the language barrier. They were welcoming and conversational with any question you could've possibly had. They walked the streets together and interacted as a community. In Brazil, many people openly stare. In America we'd consider that rude; however, they did it to openly admire beauty. If a Brazilian thought you were beautiful, they didn't hesitate to make it known to you. We learned of many Afro-Brazilian's struggles with poverty and lack of opportunity. But we also experienced the positivity and love that each person there contained. There is no perpetual pessimism that Americans have. They don't work to make themselves miserable and let everyone else know that they're miserable too. Brazilians don't bond over complaining like we do here in America. They bond over loving each other and themselves. My second day in Brazil I had the strong urge to just hug everyone in our group because I was just so happy to be experiencing it with them, even though I barely knew most of them. I left Brazil glowing internally, hoping that I can carry that glow wherever I go from now on.