November 14-18 marks international education week in the United States. To celebrate, we are featuring stories, testimonies and program updates from throughout the World Learning family on our blog all week. This post features an essay by doctoral student and SIT Study Abroad Brazil alumna Rebecca Tarlau.
By the end of 2011, I will have spent two and a half years living in Brazil, a country full of beautiful landscapes, open and caring people, rhythm, and dance. Unfortunately, Brazil also has engrained systems of economic, gender, and racial oppression.
I first stepped foot in Brazil in 2004, as a student in an SIT Study Abroad program based in Fortaleza. I had an adventurous spirit and an urge to embed myself into another culture. SIT was the perfect program to get that deep cultural immersion.
My semester with SIT helped spark a passion for education that would change the course of the next eight years of my life. As part of my Independent Study Project I worked with an NGO dedicated to grassroots educational projects, racial justice, and women’s rights called Group Wonder Woman. I watched, learned, and participated in community education programs, gaining a new appreciation for how education can help challenge social inequalities. My final paper for SIT analyzed the educational theories the NGO uses in its work, principally the ideas of the Brazilian theorist Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Today, I am a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley and remain dedicated to maintaining a close relationship between learning and action. My graduate studies have focused on how people use education to fight for change in their community and how formal school systems can be part of a process of social and economic development.
My research focuses on the initiatives of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement to transform the rural public school system. I have won three major grants to do this research: a Social Science Research Council fellowship, a Fulbright scholarship, and a Grassroots Development Fellowship from the Inter-American Foundation.
In September of 2011, my research took me back to Fortaleza where I had the opportunity to reunite with the SIT mentors who had been such an important part of my life eight years earlier.
My SIT experience was critical in igniting my passion for education. The path I chose and will continue to follow directly reflects my dedication to fighting for economic and racial justice and my belief in the power of education for social transformation.
The Labor Studies Journal recently published an article by Tarlau, which examines current debates around labor education programs within the US. Click here for the abstract.