STEP: The Brazilian Experience

I am grateful for the opportunity I had to study the music and culture of Brazil. I spent two weeks in a Brazilian culture class at The Ohio State University Columbus campus. Then I went with the class to Salvador and Rio de Janeiro. I learned about the cultural traditions practiced in Brazil, and furthermore I learned things about myself and the individual’s role in culture. I also learned many songs, dances, and stories that have enriched my life.

Being welcomed into a new culture allowed me to experience the rhythm of being in their group. There was one cultural practice where a group of us gathered in a circle and two-stepped in rhythm. We were tasked with keeping our feet and minds in rhythm with the group while our hands clapped interlocking, opposing rhythms. This task in itself took focus and an attentiveness to others in the group. Our focus was put to the test when, the leader of the group approached each member of the circle, clapping extraneous rhythms with the presumed intention of distracting us. This exercise allowed me to become more aware of the depth and intensity of focus. It was our job to look straight through it and focus unwaveringly on the task at hand, relying on our friends to help us stay in control. Then, when another was faced with that distracting force, it was our turn to help them by being steadfast in our roles. In doing this, we could be resilient against distraction and focused on contributing to the whole greater than the individual. There were many meanings that I took away from this exercise. We were all united by the groove, but we had distinct roles within it. The lapse of an individual’s focus could cause the group’s rhythmic structure to collapse. These roles required our individual focus to succeed.

In general, the people I encountered in Brazil seemed more laid back than most Americans. In the grocery store, cashiers chatted with their patrons while slowly scanning items. On the street, shops were lined with people hanging out outside. In the town squares, locals played samba music on various percussion instruments. I was fortunate enough to meet and play with a bunch of local musicians throughout the trip. Learning to be in a culture by experiencing and understanding its music and dance is very welcoming and personally rewarding.

In addition to learning more about Brazil’s music, I was able to see its beautiful landscape and plant life. I walked the length of Ipanema Beach and Copacabana Beach. I toured the some of its magnificent churches with glimmering walls lined with gold.  I looked out upon the vast city of Rio de Janeiro from the pedestal of Christ the Redeemer. It was truly wondrous. I visited public schools with few resources, but a great amount of determination and talent in their students. I met with a dean the day his classes were forced to be cancelled due to a protest about the price of oil. I witnessed religious ceremonies and watched traditional martial arts. The weeks I spent in Brazil were filled with rich experiences which have become fond memories, and I am for those extremely grateful.

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