Guest Post By: Norma Martinez, a Senior studying Accounting and Information Systems, with a minor in Real Estate. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and she studied abroad through a Foster Exploration Seminar in Brazil, during Early Fall Start 2023.
My study abroad experience began in the city of São Paolo, Brazil, where I met up with the rest of the students and professors to embark on what would be an immersive experience of Afrobrazilian culture, music, food, and people. Despite the readings and conversations we engaged in with the class, I was unsure of what to expect and nervous about my expectations. Although Sao Paolo has ten times the population of Seattle and seven times the size, the city aspect helped us ease into a new country and language. Admittedly, I only knew a few basic words in Portuguese going into this trip and heavily relied on my Spanish to pick up on information. It was my biggest challenge throughout the trip- my first time in a country where I did not know the language. One week into the program I felt a need to learn a third language- I wanted to communicate with people, learn about them, make jokes, and simply not rely on my translation app.
Due to the nature of the program, I got to connect with many students from Campo Grande and hear from professors of the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul (UFMS). These workshops and lessons were thought-provoking- I reflected on my experience as a Mexican American living in Washington and the migration of my parents compared to people in Brazil. Many of the students, including myself, had heard that “racism does not exist in Brazil”; however, inequalities in socioeconomic classes are prominent. The ability or opportunity for Afrobrazialians to improve their quality of life and have enriching experiences is rare. I was reminded that the image of a country presented to tourists will be the highlights. I was constantly listening to underlying tones people used and looking to find people with different perspectives on political issues.
At one of our afternoon outings to the park with the UFMS students, I got the chance to speak casually with various law students. We shared how our class structure, requirements, and the job economy when a comment about capitalism and constant work mode was influenced by the United States (“thanks America”). A similar situation occurred with my host family in
Salvador da Bahia when I asked about salaries and job compensation. It was difficult to get the conversation, but it turned political quickly to the point I got no “factual” information without bias. I continued to inquire about the typical life in Bahia, the education system, and cultural diversity, which required careful wording to avoid feelings of confrontation. I felt challenged and immersed in Brazilian culture by my home-cooked meals, the sound of people speaking Portuguese, and my host sister teaching me new words every day, further fueling my interest in learning a new language, whether that be Portuguese or another language.
All early fall start programs are quick-paced and I am personally filled with eagerness to participate in every event because I know my time is limited. This left me with many emotions to unravel at my departure, but above all will always be feelings of gratitude and appreciation to be in these new spaces where the university encourages self-discovery and curiosity. I came in wanting to share a space with students in different fields of study and learn more about the history of Brazil. I intended to forget about business and focus on the people, but it is impossible to separate the two. Merging both in a careful and intentional way is beautiful; I will never forget learning about the Sururu currency the Quilombo communities created to help women and end debt. I am thankful to Eduardo Viana da Silva and Monica Rojas-Stweart for making this an unforgettable moment in my college career.