Volunteering in Brazil: The Culture and Experience

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Guelph Chamber of Commerce has many connections and partnerships. Did you know that one of them is with the largest student run non-profit organization, AIESEC? AIESEC’s goal is to build a platform for leadership development by providing students the opportunity to go on internships around the world. We would like to share with you what one student said she’s gained by going on an internship abroad. 

Sabrina Fraser, currently in her fourth year at the University of Guelph majoring in biological engineering, took part in an internship in Brazil this past May and June, facilitated through AIESEC Guelph. Her initial reason for taking part in the internship was just to get away and do something different. Going into the trip with an open mind, she said, was “crucial due to the vast differences in culture”.

The internship was a volunteer based development placement in Sao Carlos, Brazil. The volunteering was done at local high schools sponsored by Project Wings. She taught to all different age groups in a classroom setting to kids eager to learn about Canada and AIESEC. Topics covered included global citizenship, entrepreneurship, emotional intelligence, interactive learning, and environmental responsibility.

Sabrina said she was very surprised to see how enthusiastic and engaged kids were. After the first day’s presentation on the job, she was literally surrounded by all 60 kids in the classroom eager to ask questions about Canada and what she thought of Brazil so far. She felt like a very iconic person and a celebrity, as so many kids were interested in talking to her. It was that moment she knew she had made the right decision to go on the trip.

As far as cultural differences go, Sabrina said she was surprised at how similar their music was. Although the local music was different, the top-40’s were very much the same. Meals consisted of lots of rice and beans. People were also exceptionally welcoming, friendly and open minded – qualities that have stuck with her since returning home. She said that after chatting with someone on the local bus, they would all of a sudden become your best friend.

When asked what her biggest challenge was, her response was simply, “leaving was the hardest part, but it came down to money”. If she had it her way, she would have stayed for much longer. Her biggest accomplishment was the amount of Portuguese she had picked up after a mere five weeks of being there, “I had a five minute long conversation with someone! I was so proud of myself, he understood everything I said without the translators help.”

These kinds of experiences are often desired by many. Her advice for others thinking about doing an internship abroad, “Just do it. Everybody always says I would love to do it, but it costs a lot of money but in the end, you wont think about that. It really is the experience you think it is. It was my first solo trip and ever since I got back its all I have been thinking about. You really have to want to be there. Figure out what it is you want to do and make it happen.”

When I asked Sabrina how she grew as a person from the internship and life lessons learned her response was, “I learned I can do whatever I want. The trip was planned in 2 weeks on a whim. I felt like doing something different so I just did it. Because I was on my own the entire time I was there it was a big independent learning experience and taught me how much I am capable of accomplishing if you just put your mind to it. The key difference between people that talk about doing it and actually doing it is how much they really want it.”

The internship had a huge impact on Sabrina. She had always heard it changes you as a person but it had a much bigger effect on her than she initially thought. It taught her to be more open minded, a quality she picked up from the Brazilian culture, and welcoming and friendly to other fellow travellers. She said she has been, “bitten with the travel bug” because travelling is all she thinks about now. Ultimately, the trip has left her with life long friends and a strong sense of curiosity as to what else is out there.

Written by: Christine Vilim

For more info on AIESEC: http://aiesec.ca/

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