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Not your typical study abroad: Graham Scholars step outside their comfort zones in Brazil.

March 01, 2019
Graham Scholars travel by boat while traveling in Brazil.

They could have gone anywhere: England, Ireland, Australia —all would have been comfortable choices for a short-term study abroad.

But being a Graham Innovation Scholar at York College of Pennsylvania isn’t about being comfortable. It’s about challenging yourself, pursuing big goals, and becoming a better global citizen.

So, for two weeks this winter, three Graham Innovation Scholars and their faculty advisor branched outside of their comfort zone and explored the culture, health care, economy, and environment of Brazil.

BUILDING THE TRIP

Planning for the trip started about a year ago. The students, all in varying majors, put together a list of goals — what areas they wanted to study and what questions they wanted answered. Then, they decided on a location that would help them accomplish those goals.

One student was interested in economics, another wanted to study deforestation, the third was interested in politics. Brazil ticked the box as a good place to study all three. And it satisfied another goal of the trip: to broaden the horizons of the students.

“It’s so much more enriching for us to take them somewhere different that is way out of their comfort zone,” says Joanne Wilkes, a fellow and mentor in the Graham Innovation Scholars Program who oversaw the trip.

FORGING CONNECTIONS

When junior Nursing student Kasey Drzewiecki sat down to interview a Brazilian anesthesiologist, she expected to spend maybe a half hour, 45 minutes tops with the woman. She was there for four hours.

The woman invited Kasey into her home and talked about what she saw on a daily basis, what it was like to work on the maternity floor of the hospital where women didn’t have access to prenatal care.

“It really puts you in a perspective of how lucky you are,” Kasey says.

The students found a similar kindness in fellow travelers they met in the hostel where they stayed. They would go in groups to hike nearby mountains, explore the city, and reflect on their days over an evening meal.

“It was honestly probably the best part of the entire trip,” says Kasey of the community at the hostel.

Meals were filled with conversations in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, French, and Dutch. But somehow they’d all find a way to understand each other. After a few days, they were sharing sunscreen and snacks like old friends.

“In a very short amount of time we just became this close-knit pack of people,” Professor Wilkes says.

EXPERIENCES OUTSIDE OF THE TEXTBOOK

Just two years ago, Rio de Janeiro was the hub of the world, hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics. Now, the country is economically devastated.

“To hear about that is one thing,” Professor Wilkes says. “But then to go there and see the people living on the streets...”

Beautiful parks were gated up to keep out the homeless population. A man bathed himself using a discarded bottle filled with rainwater he found on the street.

“To see that firsthand was very eye-opening for these students,” she says.

And that is why trips like this are important to the Graham Innovation Scholars Program. Because understanding the world around us is important — the good and the bad.

“We’re very connected to the rest of the world,” she says. “Things that we do here in the United States have an impact and a ripple across the world.”

AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE

A boat took Kasey and her classmates down the Black River to the heart of the Amazon where they stayed for three days, learning about replanting efforts and different medicines that can be found in the rain forest.

In Rio, beaches surround the city. From there they could see the mountains they’d hiked during their trip. And everywhere they went, people were warm and welcoming, giving of their time and knowledge. It was a trip that will stick with Kasey. It helped teach her how to communicate with others and work through barriers.

And it’s helped her appreciate all she has, she says.

“Every day I remind myself there are people who don’t have this opportunity.”

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