SEN Letter From San Francisco and São Paulo:
As the pioneering SEN group, we have what seems like infinite memories and experiences to share from our launch in San Francisco and our month in São Paulo, Brazil. However, instead of attempting (and surely failing) to capture such detail, here are some specific stories we’d like to share from different aspects of the program in these fascinating and complex locations: homestays, site visits, weekends, navigating the social entrepreneurship landscape, and, of course, eating.
One of my favorite experiences from San Francisco was the “Squad Dinner.” A few days before the launch ended, half of the group went to the supermarket to purchase ingredients and then the next day the other half of the group cooked dinner for everyone. I was in the cooking group, and we made a pretty amazing spread: Mediterranean salad, breakfast burritos with bacon, and chocolate chip pancakes and brownies. It was a great bonding moment – eating delicious food together in the hostel lobby and reflecting on the first two weeks together.
We then journeyed to São Paulo, Brazil, where we jumped right into site visits and classes. One of these visits was to the University of São Paulo, where we interacted with Brazilian students studying social entrepreneurship…
We had the opportunity to meet a bunch of local students who are involved in a campus organization about entrepreneurship. They were warm and welcoming. We did a group activity where we had to compete to build the tallest structure possible using newspaper and related materials. This was a quality icebreaker. Equally memorably, we heard from a USP student who was involved in Moradigna, an innovative home refurbishment social business, and from the founder of that business himself, who spoke about its particularities and principals. We had the chance to ask each other questions in a ‘fishbowl style’ conversation. During lunch, we were able to continue our discussions at the USP dining hall, where we ate with the local students. It was really fun to meet them and to hear their perspective on education and entrepreneurship in Brazil.
Deni is the world’s sweetest mother. Obviously, I love my mom at home more than anything but who says you can’t have a mom on each continent? The cooking, jokes and weekend adventures are what has made my time in Brazil so valuable, enjoyable and informative. Teaching her lingo from home has been one of the funniest moments of my IHP trip so far. Her face gleams with pride when she uses these new words correctly, and I think it makes us feel like an actual biological family, which is the ultimate goal of a homestay. Every time I leave for the day she gives two big kisses on each cheek, and sure enough, when I return home, I am greeted with a big smile and two more kisses. Coming home to Deni seems natural, like I’ve been here much longer than 4 weeks. Thank you, Deni, for being the cutest, most loving host mother. I can’t wait to return “home” in the future!
We’ve delved into our four courses: Social Entrepreneurship in a Global Comparative Context, Technology and Innovation, Anthropology and Social Change, and Design Thinking & Human-Centered Design. One of the most memorable assignments thus far has been our “Case Study,” for which we develop a research question surrounding a particular SEN theme and conduct primary research at organizations in the local context…
Today I worked with my case study group to interview two individuals from a design agency about their education projects. Let’s back up– our group is researching how technology is improving education in marginal communities. When I talk about a design agency, I mean more human-centered design, so almost like a consultant group working to creatively solve problems. It has been eye-opening to do real primary research, taking the initiative to meet with local individuals and shaping the process through which we uncover knowledge. My group loved seeing the passion at the workplace we interviewed. They taught us a lot too! For example, I learned about “tech” rooms in peripheral communities and about the education system in Brazil. Did you know high-school teachers in Brazil don’t learn how to teach, they just learn the subject area? For example, if you graduate with a degree in chemistry, you can be a high-school chemistry teacher despite not having any idea how to create a lesson, engage students, or teach to a wide variety of learning needs. It’s also very interesting that Brazil spends a little over $2000 per student per year whereas most OECD countries spend around $8000! That being said, we’ve also seen more interesting initiatives like Geekie, which is an adaptive learning platform growing here in Brazil. There are many sides to the issue, and case studies have been an amazing way to go deeper.
As such, a huge part of the learning experience has occurred beyond the walls of the classroom, out in the city, on site visits….
One day, we were able to walk through Capao Redondo, a peripheral neighborhood on the outskirts of São Paulo. Guided by a local contact, we were able to meet a few individuals, such as a woman named Vanessa who runs Le Petit Bazaar, a used-clothing shop. She and her three daughters told their moving story: her husband died, so she had to find a way to survive and she started selling her used clothes. Over months, she has transformed this into a small shop that is known throughout the neighborhood. It’s artsy and colorful in its furniture and design. One notable moment in the visit was when I noticed that we were sitting on very nifty stools: they were wooden crates originally, but then on top there was a cushion made from purple fabric. When telling her story, Vanessa told us that because it had rained the previous night, she was worried that the floor of the bazaar was going to be wet for our visit. Because we were visiting, they looked for items they could make into chairs, and had made five of these stools that very morning so that we could be more comfortable. This was something that really stood out to me, how much they went out of their way for us. Why? We are not special in that sense. After all, they are letting us come into their space and if anything, we should be going out of our way…. It was very moving.
On the weekends, we’ve also found moments to relax…
Our time in Ilha Bela, an island off the coast of São Paulo, was truly exceptional. It was a wonderful immersion in a tropical part of Brazil and a great opportunity for us all to wind down after a long week of hard work. It was also vitally important from a development perspective. Whereas São Paulo is a sprawling concrete metropolis with virtually every part of grass and natural beauty replaced with an apartment block, it was very jarring to see an area only hours from the metropolis with such vastly unique landscapes. It really highlighted the impact, and, in many regards, the tragedy of rapid and uncontrollable industrialization. São Paulo’s urban centre continues to spread outward, and it is indeed one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world. But to see such natural beauty in Ilha Bela and to see how much the inhabitants love the natural landscape, it becomes apparent how important it is to keep up initiatives to maintain biodiversity, protect the environment, and check the impact of rapid economic growth on the natural world.
Thinking of the time thus far, we feel lucky to be on this journey together and to still have amazing adventures ahead…
It’s only been six weeks, and we’ve done SO much. Throughout the last month in Brazil especially, I’ve really felt the group come together. By spending our time together in classes, on site visits, and on the weekends, we’ve developed an awareness that we lacked when we had just first met each other. In the last six weeks, I’ve taken buses, subways, planes, a ferry, Uber, taxis, and a Jeep, all with these eight other students. On all these modes of transportation, we’re all looking out for one another. Even though I have no idea what to expect in India, I know we’ll continue to be together in this way. It makes me excited to see how we’ll continue to grow together over the next two months.