Svetlanna Ninoscka Valdes

IES Abroad Rio- Study Brazil
Up one level
Svetlanna Ninoscka Valdes

Major: Political Science, Philosophy
Minor: Economics, International Studies
Hometown: Miami, FL

How did you learn about this opportunity?

Initially I visited the Penn State Office of Global Programs and asked to speak to a peer adviser. They suggested that I look into the different countries I wanted to study in, and research whether the program offered in a specified country included classes that were relevant to my major(s). I knew that I wanted to learn a new language but also a language that my background in Spanish would make it easier to learn. My friend was learning Portuguese at the time and told me to watch "City of God." After watching the movie, I knew I wanted to go to Brazil and help the children in the favelas. I used the program search on the Office of Global Programs website and looked for programs in Brazil.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the exquisite landscape when I landed in Galeão International Airport on August 12 at 7:30 in the morning. To say the least, the sight astounded me. After the hustling and bustling of gathering my two 75 pound luggage bags toward the meeting point, finding Andrea (my Student Affairs Coordinator) and waiting for the other five students to arrive, I had my first ride around the streets of Rio. Most of the walls in the city are full of street art (graffiti) because it is legal in Brazil and no matter how many times my naked brown eyes tried to find a clear space in the distance, the vast amount of enormous mountains blocked them. I ended up taking six classes, five at the IES center in Urca (Music and Society, History of Brazil, Portuguese 002, Ecology, and Service-Learning & Anthropology) and one at Fundação Getulio Vargas in Botafogo (Citizenship: Membership, Rights and Equality). Each course and accompanying fieldwork trips contributed to further my understanding of Brazilian carioca culture. My service learning assignment was working with the Portinari project in PUC (a private university in Gavea) and in Cândido Portinari’s house (located in Laranjeiras). Cândido Portinari was one of the most famous artists in Brazil, his panels Guerra e Paz (War and Peace) are displayed in the United Nations headquarters. The most memorable part of my experience was the favela tour of Santa Marta by Sheila Souza. After that tour, I took it upon myself to find a way to help the children that resided in the favela. I collaborated with Sheila and began teaching English and tutoring the kids in Santa Marta on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. I ended up growing very close to one that would come consistently to learn and his name is Erick. Of all the beauty I found in the city and the experiences I was lucky enough to have, helping the children and meeting Sheila changed my plans for the future and me as an individual and student.

Of all the beauty I found in the city and the experiences I was lucky enough to have, helping the children and meeting Sheila changed my plans for the future and me as an individual and student.

How did this experience impact you academically?

The teaching methods of professors in Brazil are much different from that of the United States. The professors are not concerned with you passing the class as much as they are concerned with you attaining the course knowledge. The exam structure tests your ability to apply the material you learned in class and connect the concepts to what was happening in society. This was advantageous for me because I got to further my studies in economics and political science when I connected what I was learning in class to the problems Brazil was facing at the time. The professors are very relaxed and approachable, making it easier to transition. Where I noticed the greatest amount of difference was with the addition of field work assignments and trips. Initially, I thought Ecology was going to be hard for me, but it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable classes I have ever taken. The material we learned in class, we would get to see and witness in our fieldwork trips. When we covered the inter-tidal zone in class, we got to see the zonation that was occurring in the rocks alongside the beach. We got to actually feel and test out for ourselves the different types of sand at each beach we visited. It was amazing and I think the fact that I not only sat in the class and listened to the lecture, but that I also got to apply the knowledge in the field enhanced my academic experience.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

I knew before going to Brazil that I wanted to go to law school and practice either family, military or business law. I was also looking into joining the United States Airforce as a Cryptological Linguist after graduating Penn State. After my experience abroad, I realized that I was put in this world to help others--specifically children and families. After working with Sheila and seeing how much I can change and help the kids at Santa Marta, my plans after graduation have slightly altered. I realized that if I was able to help the children in another country and continent, I could do the same here in the United States. After graduation, I plan to join a non-profit organization like Americorp, CityYear, or Teach for America, and help underprivileged students. My experience with Sheila also made me want to learn more about practicing family law and adding a global perspective in the years to come. Hopefully I get to go overseas again while I am attaining my J.D. 

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would more than just recommend this experience, I would go as far as saying that it is essential for someone to go study and live in another country. It will be challenging, difficult at times and fun at others, but you can only gain from going abroad. You come back different, strong, humble, and cultured.

For more information on global experiences for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.
Return to Top