Higher Education in Brazil: Access, Equity, and Opportunity Study Abroad– STEP Reflection

For my STEP Signature Project, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Bahia, Brazil for the duration of Spring Break in 2016 through Ohio State’s Office of International Affairs and Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The main activities of this program included learning directly about Brazilian culture and the Brazilian education system at two of Salvador’s educational institutions: the Insituto Cultural Steve Biko (Steve Biko Cultural Institute) and the Associacao Cultural Brasil-Estado Unidos (ACBEU). I also had the opportunity to visit historical, cultural, governmental, and non-governmental sites.

Through my enriching STEP experience, perhaps the most important transformation that occurred for me was that I learned was the value of education. Growing up in the United States with an educated family, I never had to worry about going to primary or secondary school. I lived in a city which provided transportation, resources, and passionate teachers for me and my classmates to succeed. I considered that going to school was a right, not a privilege. As the time for me to attend college came around, I always knew that not going to college was not an option for me. I knew that skipping college was not an option, but I did not know why. I had just assumed going to college would get me a good job. But now, after studying abroad in Brazil, I understand the value of a solid education, and I know that there is much more to life than having a good job.

One event that led me to this realization of the value of education was when we visited a primary school in the favelas (Slums of Brazil). The students were so bright and so eager to learn; However, the resources were lacking. There was no air conditioning in the school, the teachers were underpaid, school supplies were very limited, and even classrooms environments were not conducive to learning. Despite these hardships, students came to class everyday to learn. It made me think about the inequity because some schools in America can provide their students with ipads, whereas many students in Brazil do not have enough pencils or paper. This struck a chord with me and made me feel very thankful for the resources I was given throughout primary and secondary school.

Another event that led me to this realization was when got to visit a secondary school. We sat in a classroom and listened to a presentation (in English) led by some of the students who attended the secondary school. From this presentation, I learned about the inequities in the education system in Brazil, and how factors such as race, socio-economic status, and gender can impact an Afro-Brazilian’s access to education. This presentation was important to me because it showed me how several of the students had to worry about racism at such a young age, whereas I did not even know about the concept when I was their age. It made me upset that something such as race, a concept no one has control over, has such a strong and prominent influence over students’ access to education. This conversation and presentation made me want to become more aware about myself and the people around me.

Lastly, one specific relationship I made with my peer during my STEP Project helped me come to the realization of the value of education. Through this relationship with my peer, we had several open conversations about our past. I learned more about her family life and her life at home growing up. It was very different than mine. I also learned a lot about her relationship with her mom and her dad. Learning about someone who is different than me helped me appreciate what I have in life, and it also helped me realize what I took for granted, such as my access to education. Moving forward, I plan to always try to acknowledge what I have in life and to be happy with my blessings.

This change/transformation is significant and valuable to several aspects of my life such as my academic, personal, and professional goals. For example, because now that I have a better appreciation for my education, I feel more motivated to study. Because I am more motivated to study, this can help me achieve competitive scores. By obtaining competitive scores, I believe I could get into graduate school, which would help me accomplish my dream career of becoming a mental health counselor. Had I not had the opportunity to gain international exposure and experience, I would not have the same perspective on education that I do now. I am grateful for this opportunity, and hope to be able to give back one day.