SIT alumnus Kavin Dayanandan Paulraj describes how the SIT Study Abroad Brazil program in Fortaleza has profoundly contributed to his life and academic career.
Written by Kavin Dayanandan Paulraj
SIT Study Abroad alumnus (Spring 2002)
Fulbright fellow (2010 – São Luis, Brazil)
Ph.D. candidate, University of Pittsburgh (Dept. of History)
“Today, I am a Fulbright fellow in São Luis, Brazil working on my doctoral dissertation research in history. It all started in the spring of 2002 with SIT’s program in Fortaleza, Brazil. I remember how my Portuguese language professor Hélio Lopes encouraged us to learn pronunciation, idioms, slang, and other nuances of the language so that we could effectively interview people for our research project.
Now I interview politicians, musicians, businesspersons, security personnel, and common people of all ages with complete confidence. This month, I will present a paper completely in Portuguese at an academic conference. Brazilians – much like other peoples around the world – appreciate it when you make a serious effort to learn their culture, and they will reciprocate by sharing their opinions and inviting you into their homes.
The time spent with host families, the weekly excursions, and the academic lectures organized by SIT helped us learn about the diversity of Brazil’s people. They also taught us about the crippling socioeconomic inequality that is at the root of much of the country’s problems. It’s not enough to just see how the extremes of society live; you also have to experience those lifestyles personally or convivência in Portuguese.
SIT’s commitment to immersion in the host culture is not an easy task, but it brings wonderful rewards when you try it. Suddenly, you can compare political systems and policies in the US with those abroad, and since you have seen the positive and negative results in each case, your political critique is much sharper. The effects of imperialism have a human face, when you look from the viewpoint of the global south; blind patriotism is surely one of the first victims of an SIT program.
Thanks to Bill Calhoun and the staff at SIT’s Fortaleza office, I gained a firm understanding of Brazilian politics. Consequently, I can confidently carry out meaningful research that one day will result in a book to aid both Brazilians and foreigners understand a slice of history and, hopefully, change society for the better.
Not surprisingly, I met several other SIT alumni at the orientation session in São Paulo for this year’s Fulbright grantees to Brazil, and equally unsurprisingly, they were among the most confident about the coming year and the success of their research.
For my part, SIT’s program in Fortaleza placed me firmly on a path to success in the academic world and gave me the tools to constantly renew my connection to the people and society of Brazil, most recently through the Fulbright grant. Most importantly, I consider myself a citizen of the world, ready to think globally and act locally, wherever I may be. Valeu, SIT!”