Education Abroad: Brazil

Program Overview

The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) hosts a six-week study abroad program, the longest program currently offered in the college, to Brazil every Spring for the newly inducted members of the agricultural honorary-fraternity Alpha Zeta Partners (AZP).

AZP is a professional, honorary fraternity for men and women in CFAES. After induction into AZP, first-year members complete four seminars: the first on Leadership (which takes place in Columbus, Ohio), the second on Diversity and Inclusion (also in Columbus, Ohio), the third is the global learning experience/study abroad to Brazil, and the fourth on Organizations and Public Policy (Washington, D.C.). After completion of the first-year seminars, members stay involved with the organization through meetings, social events, and service opportunities, and members continue to seek ways to continually further their leadership and diversity in order to serve the community around them and prepare themselves for future careers in the professional, global world. To read more about AZP at Ohio State, click here.

The six-week study abroad program to Brazil includes a combination of lectures, excursions, and travel throughout which participants explore historical, cultural, environmental, social, institutional, organization, and individual leadership perspectives of Brazil. A little more than half of the program is spent taking history, art, culture, economics, agricultural, and language classes at University of Sao Paulo’s agriculture college, ESALQ, in Piracicaba, which culminates in a final exam. The weekends are spent during this time taking mini excursions to develop other important components of the program: agricultural and business tours as well as personal and group development. During this time, we also spent about a week getting to know and staying with local host families, which gave us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a Brazilian household and the Brazilian culture. After our time at ESALQ, we headed out on a larger road trip, exploring more of the Brazilian agricultural industry, Brazilian businesses, and Brazilian culture. Some of the activities on our 2-week trip included: oyster farm tour, port tour via boat, botanical garden visit, art museum visit, tobacco farm/processing plant tour, brewery tour, agricultural research center tours, apple and beef production farm visit, and food processing plant tours, as well as many others! Upon the completion of the trip, we returned to Piracicaba and ESALQ where we finished up our group projects that we had been working on throughout the trip and then presented our findings/conclusions. We also wrap up the personal reflections that we have completing as a group and personally throughout the trip with some final group oral and individual written reflections. Also throughout the trip, as an option to receive credit for a general education requirement (Contemporary Issues requirement) you have the option to complete a research paper on a chosen topic related to your interests and your study abroad program, which I did, and finished up shortly after returning home.


Pre-Departure Reflection

Another AZP member in my class & I running in a 5K to raise money for Brazil

Unlike other study abroad programs, this program did not have a pre-departure class associated with it, but due to the seminars and meetings that occur before the study abroad program, I still felt just as prepared. We get to know each other during two seminars which relate to leadership development and diversity and inclusion, as well as during meetings that help to prepare us for Brazil, by giving us an idea of the things we’ll experience as well as the things we should pack, vaccinations we need, etc. There are also social events hosted by other older AZP members that help us to get to know each other and become more comfortable with the idea of travelling together.

Members of my class and I attending an event put on my the Fisher College of Business discussing the Brazilian economy

I remember being very stressed about packing and preparing for the trip, and I remember thinking that some of the experiences would be very similar to Nicaragua, and I remember getting a little sad about being away from home for so long. But, mostly I remember being excited to challenge myself to spend a longer period time abroad, to grow myself, and to make new memories. I remember knowing that this experience would be important and significant, but little did I know that it would be life-changing.

Me, my “big”, another member of my class, her “big” at an AZP social event to grow our fellowship


While Abroad Reflection

The program was about a forty day program, so I would like to share some reflections and journal entries that I had written for about every ten days of the program.

A blog post I had written about Day #8 for our class blog:

Another beautiful day in Brazil! I don’t know how any day could be a bad day when you start it eating fresh fruit (fruta), freshly baked bread (pao), and freshly squeezed orange juice (suco de laranja) on a patio in the sun. Shout out to Cristina, our language professor here in Brazil, for being so awesome at teaching us Portuguese!

Speaking of Cristina teaching us Portuguese, this was the class that we had first today at The University of Sao Paulo. Today was definitely a day when I think we all started to understand and feel more comfortable with Portuguese. Cristina is such an amazing professor for teaching us this quickly and having us pick it up.

Cristina also gave us a little information about our homestay families today. I think what was nice about that is that is gave us a very general set of information about the family we would be stay within a couple weekends and put us at ease about staying in someone else’s home that we do not know, in a foreign country. I think it is safe to say that, now, and due to the positive reviews of previous classes, we are super excited to go to our homestay.

After Cristina’s lesson, we had our second class with Professor Caron, who currently is reviewing with us with Brazilian history and historical periods of industrialization. Today the class got particularly interesting when we talked about the history of the tribes that were in Brazil before Portuguese immigration and also when we watched videos about pesticide use in Brazil and the lack of regulations within Brazil. I think we found the history of the Native Indians that lived in Brazil interesting because it is similar and also different to stories we hear of Native Americans that were discovered in America when Europeans headed there. Often, in US education, you never really hear much about the perspective from the Native American Indians, other than that they were ravaged by disease, conquered, and kicked out of their land. Here in Brazil, in this one class, I learned more about the tribal activities of the Brazilian Native Indians than I have in my fifteen years of education in the States.

Also, fun fact: anytime that you travel to a country in Central or South America, you should refer to yourself as a citizen of the United States (not an American) and as being from the United States/USA (not America). This may seem strange but the reason for this is because citizens of countries in Central and South America also identify as “Americans.” This helps to avoid confusion and frustration.

It was also interesting to discuss pesticide use in Brazil, because this is also a “hot”, important topic in the States, too. However, in the States, we have tons of regulations that dictate that application of pesticides and similar materials very carefully and strictly. In Brazil, many products that the US banned decades ago are still being used. In Brazil, there are often careless applications (such as bad timing, wrong machinery choice, etc.) that cause the pesticides to get to local water sources/wells and crops, which is devastating for the surrounding Brazilian rural life. We talked about how in some social and economic issues you will see Brazil as advanced or more advanced than a first world country, but then in other issues you will see that they can very much still seem like a third world country–which is probably part of why they are often referred to as an “average” country in the world. I think that this topic was particularly interesting to us because as agriculture students, we know how much of a hot topic this is in the world and States, but we can also recognize how far behind Brazil is, and how dangerous of a place that is to be in terms of pesticide usage.

After class, we all talked as a group about reflections, headed back to the hotel, and then met Cristina at a local bakery. A lot of us got these huge, several feet long, fresh-made sandwiches and some pastries/sweets to share. For the most part, we all eat very healthily in Brazil, but this instance was definitely not one of them! It was nice to hang out with Cristina and eat with her and let her show us around, too. I’m not sure what everyone else’s experience in their classes in the States have been, but in my classes, sometimes our professor will want to go out and grab food or drinks with their class at the end of the semester, so I thought it was very cool that Cristina expressed interest in that too.

After this trip with Cristina a lot of us either swam, went off to get dinner at a new place, or caught up on our work. Every day in Brazil is a beautiful one, and every day we learn something!

Journal entry from Day #22, saying goodbye to host family:

Then, Carol took Lindsay and I to the mall to try these kinds of chocolates that she just loves. She ended up buying us hot chocolate and buying some of those chocolates for us to take home. It was so, so sweet. I definitely got majorly spoiled by everyone this weekend, no doubt. Before we knew it, time at the mall was up and we were going to meet up with Ronaldo and Patricia (my homestay “parents”). When I saw them I think that they were so excited to see me and I could tell that the emotions had started sinking in for them.

We drove back to their apartment where I started packing up my suitcase and getting everything situated to leave. Towards the end of getting everything ready Patricia came into my room. I couldn’t remember exactly what she said or how she started the conversation but she started crying, talking about how this was my room. It killed me to see her cry. I was fine until she was crying. She said something about how she would always remember this weekend and how this room will always be my room. After we wrapped it up, Ronaldo grabbed my stuff and we headed out to head to Antonio’s Hotel. When we got to Antonio’s, and on the ride there, she cried more. She said something about wishing me freedom in my life and always good things, and she talked about how I was a good girl and I deserved amazing things, and she said that when she has kids that she is going to tell them about the first girl to sleep in their room, and she said how she was going to remember and cherish this weekend for the rest of her life. How can you not bawl your eyes out? It just blew my mind that she felt that I had that profound of an effect on her and her life. I love her too, and I told her, and I’ll always remember this weekend too. Everyone else was pretty much already at Antonio’s and they saw me bawling my eyes out and took pictures. They talked about how perfect Patricia and I were as a pair. I cried and hugged her a lot, and pretty much missed her as soon as she left.

Journal entry from Day #28, recovering from food poisoning:

We decided that if I wasn’t feeling significantly or noticeably better by tomorrow morning that I would go to the hospital, which I thought was a good idea especially considering that I don’t want to be sick on the entire trip.

Mariana made me get up and move around a little bit, which was probably good. We sat downstairs for breakfast and spent some time down there. I was actually able to finish my piece of bread with jelly and not feel totally gross about it. I also ate some plain, graham cracker things and took a couple up to the room. I am pretty sure that we just napped the rest of the day while we were waiting on the group, which was nice.

When I met back up with them, we headed to a tobacco coop/processing plant place. I have already seen two of these in Kentucky and one in Nicaragua, but it was cool to add Brazil to the list of places that I have seen a tobacco processing plant. The buildings were very nice and it was cool to see how things were processed. Thankfully, my stomach didn’t get too upset, but it still hurt and I felt like I had to go the bathroom all the time, which was a little annoying and uncomfortable.

After the tobacco place we went to a small brewery, which I thought was really cool. I wish we could have been able to tour inside the brewery where they make the beer, but since the establishment was also a restaurant apparently the tour would be against food laws/regulations of some kind. Go figure… one of the rare times the government actually regulates something in Brazil, it keeps us from doing something neat! (Just joking… kind of.) I was really, really sad to not be feeling well on this day because they got to sample all different kinds of beer, and I love beer. I was feeling awful, but still I was bummed.

After that, we spent a lot of time on the bus to head to Sao Joaquim and I got sick again once arriving to this hotel.

Being sick in a foreign country makes you really miss systems of medicines you are comfortable with, languages you are comfortable with, easily accessible food, etc. This is definitely my biggest challenge yet in terms of being in a different country/environment and adjusting.

Journal entry from Day #39, processing leaving & saying goodbye:

Today we went to a couple stores to buy some last minute things. After that, we had a little time to finish packing. It was strange, but on some levels it just felt like we were getting ready for another field trip. I could have continued on with this program, I could have gone longer. It didn’t really quite feel like six weeks, or maybe it did and six weeks just didn’t feel long enough.

After we finished up packing, we went to our farewell lunch with Shirota, Cristina, Alan, and Mariana. It also was nice to do our final thank-you’s with all of them, and it did get me a little sad, but mostly it just hit me that not only were we not going to be in Brazil anymore, we weren’t going to be travelling anymore, and we weren’t going to be with any of these four anymore. It was a strange feeling.

Then, we checked out of the hotel and headed to the airport. Getting through security and all of that was pretty simple. It was strange when we said goodbye to everyone again. I was really, really, really going to miss them, and I genuinely didn’t want the experience to be over, especially in that moment of saying goodbye. I remember meeting Alan and Mariana and Shirota in the airport and how they have been with us the whole time, until this very moment. It was sad, but also a very special moment. In ways, I felt at home with these people in these moments in this place. It was surreal to think about leaving.


After Return Reflection

The primary components that made up this six-week study abroad program included: classes as ESALQ (University of Sao Paulo’s agriculture college), mini excursions, stays with local host families, a larger road trip, group projects, personal reflections, and a research paper. The classes and final cumulative exam taught and tested my knowledge on Brazilian agriculture, history, art, culture, economics, and language. The mini excursion and larger road trip allowed me to see Brazilian agriculture, business, and culture in action, to have a better grasp of their systems, strong points, weak points, etc. The local host family stay allowed me to gain a better understanding of Brazilian people and culture, and to also make meaningful lifelong connections. The group project I was a part of explained Meat and Milk production in Brazil and comparisons to the United States, which challenged me to go very in-depth research and knowledge wise into Brazilian production agriculture. The research paper I composed titled “Brazil v. The United States: What is the Future for Livestock Production?” was the most culminating experience for me, as it allowed me to focus on my specific interests and to dive deep into Brazilian agriculture in order to compose the paper that I am most proud of to date. See the completed research paper by clicking here: Shoemaker AZP Contemporary Issues Paper -1eoze2j. I also have presented on my Brazil study abroad experience and my research paper several times since returning to the states; below you can see a powerpoint that I used to present to my Agricultural Communications class when speaking about Brazilian beef production.

The personal reflections were also a very important component of the program, and of processing my feelings about the program and personal and leadership growth upon return. Throughout your AZP experience, you are always challenged to think about having a “global mindset” and what that might mean and look like. One of the post-reflection assignment questions we were given following the Brazil study abroad program was about the importance of having a global mindset now, and what having a global mindset means to us now, having completed the six-week study abroad program. Even though this response was a very initial, immediate response, it is what would eventually over time shape into my deep appreciation and respect for people and nations different than me and my ability to think more broadly and globally, and I would like to share this response.

I mentioned this during our final presentation in Brazil, but I really feel like this experience in Brazil really made me see how close-minded we can be in America. This may not always be a bad thing, but I think we can tend only be focused on us and what we do, and we don’t think about there being anyone else in the world, or we think that we are the best in everything and we don’t think about anyone else in the world being competition. Or, if we do think about other people, as Americans we also tend to be very critical of other cultures, religion, and people in general that are different from “us.”

Now that I am aware of my own culture and the tendencies that we have, I feel that my global mindset is totally different, now that I have completed this program. I look at people different than me on campus and I have more respect for them and their differences. I think about more than just America when I think about livestock, agricultural production, research, politics, economics. I feel smaller in the world, but I also feel like the world is more connected. I no longer just think about the United States as my world and my people. After this program I gained this feeling that I am a citizen of the world for the first time. Yes, I am inherently American as a person, but I am also just one part of this huge, big, complicated, complex, cool world. I think more now about these other perspectives and have more respect for them. Even though I am more proud of who I am, I no longer feel superior, and I believe that this comes with thinking globally.