For the second time, Anglo-American University organized a work/study trip to Brazil early this year but the effort met with lack of interest. It’s unclear whether potential dangers of Rio de Janeiro’s streets, the asking price or just a lack of publicity was the cause.
“I wanted to go but it just costs too much for three-week trip,” said Haruka Sato, a second-year student at AAU. “I could have gone there by myself for less money and stayed even longer.”
Klaudia Mankosova, first-year international relations student, when asked about the Brazil project, said she knows “absolutely nothing about it.” But the founder of the trip, Peter Sponer, had a different explanation. “We took quite a lot of people in the first year; therefore the pool of applicants to choose from this year was much smaller.”
The students who did make the trip showed enthusiasm about their stay in Brazil. Gil Kent, a first year humanities student, described it as a nice opportunity to discover what Brazil has to offer. The main purpose of this trip was to teach children in favelas, the Brazilian slums, and this is one of Kent’s best memories. “I was interested to be on the teaching side,” he said.
During their stay, students taught children over two weeks for about one to two hours each day. They would then spend couple of hours playing with them. Even though children did not speak good English, the language barrier did not appear to interfere. “We were exchanging our language knowledge,” explained Kent.
Most of the students who made the trip did not have prior teaching experience. Robert Warren, a supervisor, provided several classes preparing student volunteers. “They explained to us basics of teaching,” said Kent. However, Minkyung Kim, an international relations student, said, “it wasn’t enough to be prepared for this trip.”
Many students, including Kent, felt that the time they spent volunteering, which several thought was the main point of the trip, was too short.
Warren agreed but explained that, to the surprise of many, the trip is mainly business oriented. “We have to appeal to the majority,” said Warren.
As for decrease in students, which dropped from 16 to 8, Warren said, “less students is better.” Because of this, he argued, they had more responsibility and thus had to become more independent. Sponer agreed, adding, “it was easier to coordinate.”
Martin Ranninger, a first year student, offered a different view, saying the trip would benefit from more people so they could “spend more time individually with children.”
Overall, students agree the trip was successful, although there were some obstacles that could have been avoided. AAU students were only provided with breakfast and were not allowed to cook their own food. In the end, this increased the cost of the trip because they had to “eat outside all the time,” as Kent explained. Kim suggested a more budget friendly solution might be “to find support funds.”
An improvement that Sponer feels necessary is tough selection criteria. He explained that the project is very unique so “people should be carefully selected…It is certainly not for everyone.”
When asked about future student volunteer trips, Warren said he would like to expand into “new cultures,” such as India or the Philippines. He would also like to make these trips more frequent, he said, running not just in winter but also in summer.
Another idea is focusing on anthropology studies, adding analysis of the culture in countries visited. “I would like to balance the project more.”