In the spring of 2014, the Department of African American and African Studies offered its first Study Abroad Program to Brazil. Building upon its strengths in African Diaspora Studies, AAAS created the Afro-Brazilian Study Abroad in partnership with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of International Affairs; both of which provided students partial funding for the trip, and were instrumental in helping to plan for the trip. Developed, organized, and taught by AAAS professors, Dr. Leslie Alexander and Dr. Curtis Austin, the study abroad experience was a two-semester series, including a spring semester with a course on Afro-Brazilian History and Culture and a three week in-country course in the May term.
The original idea for the Afro-Brazil program stemmed from a series of discussions between Dr. Valerie Lee, Vice-Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, and Dr. Ike Newsum, AAAS Department Chair, who wanted to find a way to expose first generation college students, students of color, and ODI scholars to an international experience. Drs. Lee and Newsum eventually selected Brazil as the ideal site for their proposed study abroad program, since OSU opened a new gateway in Brazil in 2014, and also because Brazil is home to the second-largest population of African-descended people in the world.
Drs. Austin and Alexander were selected to create the program, which took an entire academic year to envision and implement. The result was an unforgettable Afro-Brazilian Study Abroad program that changed the lives of 25 OSU students. After a fun 14 weeks of learning Afro-Brazilian History and Culture, these 25 students embarked upon the journey to Brazil. Most of these students had never left the state of Ohio, and all but a handful had never flown on a plane. With the exception of a few, most of the students had never traveled outside the United States.
The professors chose to base their study abroad class in Salvador, which is the largest city in the state of Bahia. Well known for its large African descended population, Bahia is home to a uniquely Afro-Brazilian religion and culture. While the students enjoyed a couple of lectures from professors who teach at the Federal University of Brazil in Salvador, they spent most of their time experiencing the people and places of Bahia. In the city of Salvador, students explored Candomble religious villages known as terreiros, (pronounced Te Hey Ohs), as well as historic Catholic churches, former slave trading markets, and local schools. They also experienced favelas, which are poverty-stricken neighborhoods that are reminiscent of American inner-city “projects.” In addition, the students spent time with young people at the Steve Biko Institute, which is an organization designed to assist Brazilian students of color in getting into college.
Students also traveled to Bahia’s rural interior, where they visited the town of Cachoeira, which was the first site of slavery in Brazil, and the village of Remanso, which is a community known as a quilombo that was founded by fugitive slaves. The students also enjoyed a long trip inland to a city known as Lencois. The purpose for this excursion was to show the students the different types of climates and cultures that made up Brazil. While Brazil is typically thought of as having a very hot climate, Lencois was almost cold, with the temps hovering around the low sixties for a couple of days, though on the last day, temps rose back into the typical 80’s and 90s. Nevertheless the students braved the cold weather and climbed to the top of Pai Inacio, one of Brazil’s most famous mountains. Also while they toured the area, students were treated to a tour of a series of caves used by Native Brazilians prior to the coming of Europeans.
Of course no stay in Brazil could be complete without a trip to the beach, so the students were especially pleased to have a two-day excursion to the island of Morro de Sao Paulo where they could take a break from journal writing, listening to lectures, and being shuttled from one cultural site to the next. In Morro de Sao Paulo, the students were encouraged to simply relax and to enjoy the beauty that is Brazil.
The department is happy to have had Professors Alexander and Austin lead this wonderful study abroad tour and hopes to keep it in the AAAS curriculum for many years to come.