From the College of Humanities and Social Sciences
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Cacilda Rego

Cacilda Rego joined the USU faculty in 2006. She received the college’s Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year Award in 2010.

Office Hours - A Faculty Perspective

More Than an Academic Experience

By Cacilda Rego, Associate Professor of Portuguese

Utah State University has a long history of international cooperation with students and researchers from around the world. The university has formal cooperative agreements with 275 universities in 39 countries across Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas; however, it continues to look for partners and programs for international cooperation in research and education. The Office of Global Engagement recently awarded grants for faculty to explore new opportunities with institutions in the Middle East, China, and Latin America.

As one of the grant awardees, I traveled to Brazil this summer to visit three potential USU partners: the Pontífícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, Universidade Federal da Bahia, and Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio). Over the years, USU students have studied at PUC-Rio, which is recognized as one of the most important doctoral research centers in Brazil. However, study abroad is often more than an academic learning experience.

Known for its telenovelas, soccer stars, carnival, music, and beautiful beaches, Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people. Not surprisingly, as I often hear from my students, Brazil is “an amazing country!” But today Brazil is also recognized as a political and economic leader in Latin America. As a country of geographical diversity, social contrast, and rich cultural heritage derived from African, Asian, European, and Amerindian cultures and traditions, Brazil offers a study abroad experience unlike any other. (I know this, for I am from Brazil!)

The benefits of studying abroad are many. Aside from providing an opportunity to travel to a different (and often far distant) country, getting to know another culture first-hand, and making new friends, as an associate professor of Portuguese, I find that there is no better and more effective way of learning a foreign language than to be immersed in the a culture that speaks it. But studying abroad is also more than acquiring a new language.

As a student enters an entirely new academic system, he or she will also have the opportunity to develop new social skills, discover new strengths and abilities, conquer new challenges, and solve new problems. In addition, students who study abroad have the opportunity to experience a new lifestyle and social rhythm that one cannot have by staying home.

By the time a student returns to USU, he or she will have developed a global perspective of the world and gained a number of very important skills which will help them throughout life. Study abroad helps to expand one’s world view. The experience helps students not only to embrace new concepts and perceptions toward other cultures and peoples, but to see their own culture through new eyes.

As the world continues to become more globalized, the experience of living and studying abroad, of having first-hand knowledge of another culture, and of speaking another language will also enhance both the value of one’s degree and employment opportunities both at home and abroad. For all those reasons, study abroad is not just a good idea; it is a life-changing experience that deserves rigorous encouragement.

In that regard, I wish to note that my visit to these three distinguished Brazilian universities coincided with the new developments in the educational and scientific exchange between the US and Brazil initiated during the visit of President Barack Obama to the country in March 2011. On the occasion, two agreements were signed: The Coordination of Improvement of Higher Level Personnel (CAPES) in Brazil, which will allow federal scientific training agencies in both countries and with the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the U.S. to identify priority research areas for both sides. Together, these two agencies will work to continue to improve the exchange of scientists, graduate students and professors, especially in the field of biodiversity.

In another initiative, CAPES and the Fulbright Commission will initiate a new project, the Strategic Dialogue Program, with the goal of intensifying the relationship between academics from Brazilian and U.S. institutions and in areas of interest to the two scientific communities.

As these efforts encourage both Brazilian and American universities to strengthen and increase academic cooperation, it is more important now than ever before that USU continues to seek new bilateral cooperative opportunities for students and faculty. These will foster cross-national education and professional training opportunities in a wide range of academic disciplines. I cannot imagine a better way for students to learn about the world than by experiencing it firsthand.