Immersed in Brazilian Culture, ALEC Students, Faculty Participate in Mind-Opening Study Abroad

By: Mollie Lastovica

A group of five ALEC students and three faculty members traveled to eastern Brazil seeking total cultural immersion on a thirteen day study abroad trip during the Maymester.

The group was led by Professor Alvin Larke, Jr., Ph.D, Jonathan Howell, ALEC academic advisor and David DeSousa, admissions advisor. They started their trip in urban areas of Brazil before traveling to the states of Goiás and Bahia, which are renowned for cultural diversity and agricultural production.

The study abroad trip coincided with coursework in ALED 422/ALEC 685, Cultural Pluralism in Agriculture. The group sought to educate small Brazilian communities about the importance of agriculture and education and for those students, in turn, to learn about Brazil’s work to publicize agricultural education, business and practices across the country.

“We learned a lot about the small town cultural aspects of Brazil,” said Tanner Kilpatrick, Master’s of Agricultural Education student. “The people were so accepting and gracious. They cooked for us and were excited to see us.”

For Howell, traveling to Brazil allowed him to see how people live in cultures that vary from that of his own.

“I had never been immersed in a culture like that,” Howell said. “It was very humbling to see the way people lived. They had no TV, no electricity, no vehicles… the nearest town was three and a half hours away.”

As the trip progressed, the group traveled deeper into Brazilian communities that have been stricken by poverty.

“It was really cool to see how blessed we are here in America,” Howell said. “We, as Americans, always say how we know that we are blessed, but I don’t think you really realize that and what you take for granted until you see how poor people are elsewhere.”

They spent time in the State of Bahia visiting rural schools and small agrarian reform farms and learning about the agricultural industry in Brazil.

“I thought it was interesting how their farming is all natural,” Kilpatrick said. “They literally live off of the land.”

While in Brazil, they also visited a number of churches, museums and the capital district.

“I saw the students fall in love with the people and the culture,” Howell said. “We had many discussions along the way about how humbling the experience was.”

Study abroad experiences are designed for students to learn in a hands-on environment, while engaging in and learning about different cultures along the way. For some, the experience is life-changing.

“Dr. Larke asked me to go, but I was not sure about it at first due to the expense,” Kilpatrick said. “I never wanted to or ever thought I would leave Texas and now I am much more open-minded about everything. I loved Brazil and think I could live there.”

Both Howell and Kilpatrick noted how much of an impact the trip had on their own lives and encourage all students to participate in a study abroad, if possible.

“I was so worried about the expense, but my advice to students would be to overlook that and go anyway,” Kilpatrick said. “The experience is invaluable.”

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