This summer, recent Duquesne University graduate and Amizade intern, Meredith Cann traveled to Amizade’s site in Brazil. As an Individual Volunteer, Meredith spent a full month staying with a host family, learning Portuguese, and serving with Amizade’s community partners. Thanks for sharing your experience Meredith!
Last year, about halfway through my senior year of college, I realized that in a year, I’d be on a 40 hours a week schedule with 2 weeks of vacation and a limited budget of a recent graduate, entry-level position and that I needed to do something a little bit crazy before I got into that routine while I had the time and the resources. When I met Nathan at the Study Abroad Fair at Duquesne University, it took him 5 minutes and 7 pictures of the Amazon and Tapajos Rivers to convince me that I needed to spend a little time there. Brazil has always intrigued me, but it always seemed so far away, difficult to get to, and expensive. But after Nathan laid out the program to me, I thought, this was my chance to live on the Amazon, with a Brazilian family, learning Portuguese from locals.
I left for Brazil a week after graduating college. It was the greatest decision I have ever made, all the stress I would have had about finding a job and figuring out my life after graduating was not as important as securing my flights, getting my visa and picking up a couple Portuguese language work books. I have never been so nervous to fly alone. I’ve flown internationally alone, but never to South America and never to a place where I didn’t speak a word of the local language (I couldn’t even say Obrigada!). But after sitting in the Manaus airport for 5 hours waiting for my connection, I had already made 2 friends and learned a ton about Brazilian fashion and delicious cheesy bread. I was even more excited about what the next 30 days could bring me.
The most amazing part of my experience in Brazil was my beautiful host family in Santarem. Suzane and Fabio have become some of the most important people in my life. I have learned about their lives, their families, their background, their jobs (or strong stance against having a “real job”) and felt like I became more Brazilian because of them. Suzane brought me to her English class, where I was interrogated about my marital status, my high school experience and what I thought of the “Brazilian Man”, but I loved it because those were the same questions I had been asking Suzane, her sister and Fabio’s mom. I also gained a special angel, Suzane and Fabio’s daughter, who is the closest thing I have to a niece/quasi-daughter and I can’t wait to convince her in 15 years to run away from home for a semester and live with me in the US.
Amizade gave me more than just an opportunity to teach English in Santarem and live with Suzane and Fabio; I was also able to go on a health clinic trip with Amizade’s Site Director in Brazil, Micah, his wife and their friends. We traveled up the Amazon further into the jungle, where I met another great set of friends. This experience, assisting the nurses taking blood pressure and weight and having a crash course on the Portuguese numbers, taught me about the development of small communities. This health clinic was what I knew I wanted my future career to involve, I’m grateful to have seen rural health care from the perspective of local needs rather than from US funders, a perspective I will become very familiar with in the Development Contracting world of Washington, DC.
The most important thing I can say about Brazil is that this was not just a service trip. This was a trip, where I spent about 1/3 of my time in a hammock, 1/3 speaking Portuguese and the other 1/3 eating. I learned more than just how to teach English to children; I learned how to walk around Santarem without fainting in the heat, I learned about the local politics and news, and most importantly I learned how to find my way to Northern Brazil so I won’t be afraid to book a trip when I return. This trip started as a way to escape the real world to be able to throw Portuguese and international experience on my resume; that doesn’t even matter anymore. Because of my experience and the people I have met, I have become obsessed with Brazil and Santarem, and I am newly motivated to do good, real work in development.