Nineteen-year-old Vander Finotti is the founder and president of Federal University of Goiás’ Partners Student Chapter in Brazil, where he is in his second year of the university’s International Relations program.
One perk of being a Partners chapter member is the opportunity to apply for Travel Grants. Distributed through Partners’ Education and Culture program, Travel Grants fund visits to other Partners chapters throughout the Western Hemisphere to collaborate on areas of mutual interest, including education, art, and student exchanges.
In 2016, I applied for a Travel Grant to attend Partners’ 2016 Convention in Guadalajara, Mexico, as well as to visit Denver, Colorado and Laramie, Wyoming, two of Brazil’s Partners Chapters’ sister states. The process was simple thanks to the guidance and support I received from Partners’ Campus Engagement Officer Karen Guzman and the President of a Brazil Partners Chapter, Rejane Dal Molin.
I went on my trip seeking to collect information on how to build a stronger Student Chapter back home. Throughout my time in the United States and Mexico, I observed what types of service projects and exchange programs could fit into our vision and mission and what kinds of ideas could help us with fundraising.
At Partners’ Convention, which took place from Oct. 25-29, I learned about service projects in the fields of agriculture, health, global security, higher education, and youth. I also learned about past chapter Education and Culture exchanges.
The highlight of my trip was Wyoming, where I stayed Nov. 9-19. It was there that I found out that a state most of people view as in the middle of nowhere is an incubator for amazing social projects that I could adapt for my student chapter. I also learned the biggest lesson of my trip, nowhere is too small if people with big hearts live there.
My trip can be summarized as “a lot of first times” – my first time traveling outside Brazil; my first time camping; my first time lying down in the grass to see the stars; my first time going to the cemetery at night; my first time at a basketball game; my first time watching a play in English, and much more. More than experiencing the American culture, I now admire it.
I confess that in the beginning I was afraid of everything – to get lost, to struggle with English, that people would do not like me, etc. However, I was always welcomed warmly and with immense support. As soon as I saw Karen at the Convention in Guadalajara, or Mr. Reed, my host in Denver, or Dorly Piske, my host in Laramie all my fears disappeared. I am thankful for every single person who made me feel like I was at home during my time outside Brazil.