Deonte Lee (Brazil ’16, UC Riverside) interviewed for the Daily Press by Charity Lindsey
The dreams of today’s youth are more focused on travel than ever, and one Adelanto High School graduate is proving that those dreams aren’t far from reach — one world wonder at a time.
Last May, Deonte Lee was graduating, asking himself that inevitable question: What now?
Facing his first college rejection letter, Lee re-evaluated his direction in life and realized there was one thing he’d rather be doing than going straight to a university — traveling.
Lee had taken his first trip abroad his junior year, when he visited a friend in China. Three months later, in the summer before his senior year, he found himself in Jordan for a scholarship-provided, eight-week trip through the National Security Language Initiatives for Youth.
After becoming involved with Global Citizen Year, a nonprofit offering an immersion-based international bridge year program to high school seniors, Lee set his sights on Brazil.
Returning from an eight-month trip in May, Lee has now seen three of the New 7 Wonders of the World — first, the Great Wall of China, then the historical and archaeological city Petra in southern Jordan, and most recently, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil.
The next four, he says, he wants to see before he turns 27.
Lee said he went to Brazil “wanting to be more relaxed” and to learn aspects of a different culture, including cooking and dance.
“Being from this desert, going there was an enlightening experience,” Lee said.
From taking circus classes and jujitsu, to making murals and crepes, Lee got a full taste of Brazil’s artistic culture. He also learned conversational Portuguese, noting that “the easiest way to learn is through immersion.”
Some things he learned on the trip weren’t what he expected, however.
As part of the Global Citizen program, Lee interned with several organizations during his time abroad. Able to choose his preference, Lee worked with an organization for LGBT rights — meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — and the United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS.
“There’s a lot of sexism, and a lot of shame,” Lee said, reflecting on his experience while passing out condoms to strangers to encourage safe sex. “In L.A., I could have done that and almost everyone — at least young people — would probably take it.”
At the same time, Lee said many Brazilians were very welcoming. His host family, he said, were “amazing” and he loves them unconditionally.
Brazil police weren’t often as friendly, not believing Lee when he said he was from America.
“Brazil is very multi-cultured,” Lee said. “In Salvador, there’s a lot of police brutality against African Americans.”
However, Lee said that the locals who found out he was from California would “go crazy.”
“They’d ask me ‘Do you know Justin Bieber? Do you know the Kardashians?’ ” Lee said.
The city Lee stayed in the majority of his trip, Curitiba, he described as “a smaller L.A.”
“This experience let me know I could thrive in a big city,” Lee said. “I did everything — I lived.”
Lee said he always encourages other young people to travel too.
“I’d say go for it … Apply for everything and see where you’ll go. Don’t be afraid. Go abroad and embrace the oddities,” Lee said. “Try out your passions, you’re young enough to fail. Once a door closes, another one opens.”
Lee now plans to take some time away from traveling in order to get the full “college experience” at the University of California, Riverside, where he will study global studies and live in the college dorms.
With the goal to become either a photojournalist or a humanitarian aid officer, Lee’s travels are far from over.