My STEP experience allowed me to go abroad to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil with ten other undergraduate and graduate students and engage in cultural exchanges rooted in dance. This trip took place from March 8-March 21st 2016, over Spring Break.
This trip was exciting for me because it was my first time going out of the country, travelling to a country that I have always wanted to go to, and also being able to dance internationally. I really had no prior assumptions on how the trip would go or what to expect because the thought of Salvador was so foreign to me, so my anticipations were high. From flying over Salvador, I immediately knew I would love it there. The sun glistened, the sky was so beautifully blue, the clouds covered the sky like clumps of cotton, and the warmth hugged me as I exited the airplane. As we waited for our program director (Clara Ramos) to meet us, we learned a Portuguese phrase that we used often, “com licensa” or “excuse me”. When she arrived, we came into our first contact with Brazilian love. She gave us hugs and told us how excited she was that we were there.
That experience opened my eyes to the friendliness, love, and acceptance that Brazilians share. I realized then how much that I was willing to open my view to the wonders of the culture that I would be in for the next two weeks. It was so easy for me to do so because I felt so welcome and Salvador so quickly felt like a second home to me. I’m glad I had no prior assumptions of Brazil or the experiences we had because everything I experienced was so amazing, there was no way I could I have dreamed it to be true.
The main reason we were in Brazil was for dance. We had spent several months planning repertory, rehearsing, and learning about the culture all to prepare us for our experience there. We spent our time performing in various school locations and theater settings, learning dances native to Brazil, such as Afro-Brazilian dance and dances of orishas of the Candomblé religion, and learning about the history and dynamic of Salvador.
We spent our first couple days going on tours around the area around our hotel and historical Pelourinho. Our tour guides, Fred and Simone, were awesome tour guides and keyed us into traits that would lead us to really be immersed in the Brazilian society, such as using a thumbs up to thank someone letting you walk across the street. Although we performed many times in Brazil, people’s reactions were always the same. They would be so in tune with our dances and would be so interested in who we were in person that we would get swarmed with people, love, and appreciation for the performance we just gave.
We took a variety of classes while in Brazil, including classes in capoeira, Afro-Brazilian, and more. We got a first hand experience on the types of formal dance that Brazil has to offer by taking these classes and also going to a performance by Balé Folclórico. This allowed us to not only share how we dance in the States, but also to admire and even try the types of dances that Brazil has to offer. There was a real sense of cultural exchange that took place in Salvador.
Through these practices we were able to establish relationships with many people ranging from the hotel employees, students at every school, teachers, and random people on the street. We were easily able to create friendships and connections with people that influenced our time in Salvador greatly.
This experience of travelling to Salvador changed my life. It allowed me to see the world differently, engage with people I never thought I would, and perform internationally. I was able to have a sense of home outside of the U.S., which was so special to me. I was able to see a different part of the world, take classes from amazing teachers, analyze cultural appreciation from cultural appropriation, and even got to enjoy the beauty of Brazil. I have never felt more at home in a place outside of my own, and to feel that in Salvador was amazing to me.
This trip lead me to want to continue service and outreach activities this school year has increased my want to go back. I plan to go back to further study Afro-Brazilian dance and also be able to teach dance genres that aren’t accessible in Brazil, such as contemporary. I felt very connected to the Afro-Brazilian dance style and feel that it would be great for me to study more in depth. Also, since travelling to Salvador, I am currently enrolled in a Portuguese language course this semester so I can be well versed, if I do in fact return.
In conclusion, STEP allowing me to study abroad in Salvador was by far the best experience of my life. I know being in Brazil has shaped who I am as a person today. It has also influenced my future studies since I now want to learn more about Afro-Brazilian dance. This trip was an honor to have been chosen to go on and learn as much as I did about company, cultural, and social experiences.