One of the many Rotary Foundation’s programs designed to foster international goodwill and understanding, the Group Study Exchange is a unique international vocational and cultural exchange for professionals aged 25-40 in the beginning stages of their professional careers.
The program provides travel grants for teams of as many as six people to exchange visits with a paired Rotary District in a different country. Team members experience the host country’s culture and observe their occupations in other nations.
Last year, a group of Brazilian professionals from a variety of backgrounds visited the Rotary District 7450 in Pennsylvania. In turn, a group of five young professionals, including Evan, went to Brazil. They represented many fields, including education, corporate philanthropy, wedding and event planning, communication, physical therapy and small business development.
While Black, a 26-year-old from Stillwater, Okla., has lived, worked and studied abroad in numerous Spanish-speaking countries before setting foot on Penn’s campus, she credits various entities at Penn for preparing her for this trip overseas.
“My participation last year in the University of Pennsylvania’s Intercultural Leadership Program helped tremendously,” Black says. “It’s a program designed to foster and develop an intercultural community of leaders at Penn to take on important issues such as immigration, race and gender. Through the ILP program students learn more about communities different than their own in order to make a lasting impact at Penn –- and beyond.”
“It allows students to develop the skills and experiences necessary to design and lead cross-cultural discussions,” Black says. “Students learn to address issues of cultural awareness, gender, race, sexual orientation, age using cross-cultural dialogue, research, reflection and service learning.”
Black was able to incorporate these strengths during her trip to Brazil with the Rotary Foundation.
“The team participated in community-service projects with the local Rotarian clubs,” she says. “These projects focused on health and civic engagement.”
For six weeks, Black and others representing Rotary District 7450 of Pennsylvania experienced Brazil’s culture and institutions firsthand. They visited six cities within Rotary District 4530, including Brasília, Goiânia, Anápolis, Alto Paraíso, Formosa and Taguatinga.
“I wanted to gain a new perspective as it relates to my vocation,” Black says. “I also wanted to learn more about the culture and norms in Brazil since it is an emerging country of great importance to the world and to the United States.”
Each participant spent at least six days involved in vocational-related visits, conducted approximately 25 Rotary Club presentations and participated in nearly 30 formal visits and social events. But, they also had time to stop at many of the tourist sights, like scenic waterfalls and enticing hot springs.
The group exchanged ideas, observed how their occupational fields are practiced abroad, and developed personal and professional relationships.
As an intercultural-communication scholar, Black focused on educational exchanges, communication and diplomacy. She visited private, public and non-profit educational institutions in Brazil. While most visits were to universities and community colleges, she also was able to visit elementary schools, high schools and technical schools.
During her six-week trip, Black went to Itamaraty, the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations, along with other international groups, hospitals and multi-national companies, in addition to educational and cultural non-profit organizations. Many of the local Rotary projects they visited focus on education, health and youth empowerment.
“My experience has changed the way that I understand Brazil and the future of the country,” she says.
Black remembers the moment when it all came together, when her studies at Penn GSE intersected with her trip to Brazil.
During her studies at Penn GSE, she took a class called “Education, Globalization and Development.” And while visiting the Universidade Catolica de Brasília, she learned about their literacy project, Projeto Alfabetização Cidadã, which focuses on adult literacy and digital inclusion. As a result of synthesizing the knowledge gained from her class with her real-life experience, Black says the trip became much more meaningful.
“I was able to put my knowledge to use and discuss the successes, struggles and futures of these kinds of programs,” she says. “During the site visits, I learned about the trends in Brazil as they relate to higher education, international affairs and diplomacy. And, I was able to develop meaningful friendships and contacts as well as gain incredible insight about the culture because I was able to speak Portuguese.”
Black continued her intercultural development efforts this summer in Vermont.
She has just returned to Philadelphia from the Middlebury Portuguese Language School at Middlebury College. There, she completed the Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace: Investing in the Study of Critical Languages, which lasted seven weeks.
As the new academic year approaches, Black will continue her involvement with the Intercultural Leadership Program, but this time, she will be a student leader.
She’s also serving as a graduate assistant peer advisor to help with incoming intercultural-communication students at Penn GSE and plans to continue participating with GlobalEd, a student group she co-founded with Lara Kindle, another Penn GSE student. GlobalEd hosts events and develops programs to enhance cultural understanding within Penn GSE. In addition, Black will be a part of GSE’s International Student Advisory Board.
In October, Black and fellow GSE student Colleen Daley will travel to Minneapolis, along with the program assistant at the Greenfield Intercultural Center, Sarvelia Peralata-Duran, to present at a national conference for the Society for Intercultural Education Training and Research.