We returned last week from spending a week in Florianopolis, Brazil with our daughter Caroline (“Kat”) Blackburn, who is a 2014 fellow in the Brazil cohort. After spending nearly a week with her in Brazil, we are delighted to report that the Global Citizen Year experience has delivered above and beyond our expectations! In Brazil, we discovered a young woman who is well on her way to realizing the growth experience she was anticipating. As fellow parents of Global Citizen Year Fellows, we would like to share with you some of our initial observations at the halfway point of her fellowship in Brazil:
Independence. We knew that one of Global Citizen Year’s key goals is to create independence for the fellows with the in-country experience. What we didn’t expect was to witness Caroline doing things so independently so early on in the program. It was quite a shock to see our small-town, New England girl becoming a “brasileira” – navigating through Floripa’s public transportation like a pro, comfortably conversing with vendors and waiters, and adeptly managing her finances in local currency.
Cultural Affinity. Caroline has fallen in love with Brazil and has developed a deep appreciation and affinity for the local traditions and lifestyle. She has also developed a strong bond to her host family and has quickly become an extended member of it in short period time staying with them in Florianopolis. (We love the way they call her when they greet her, “Oy… Care-Oh-LINE-eeee!”). Without exaggeration, we can state with confidence that her host family is a perfect fit for her. During our week there, we also developed a strong bond them as well and feel they are now a part of our extended family!
Languages. We were very surprised – and delighted – at the level of proficiency Caroline has developed in Portuguese in just 3+ months. She is effectively utilizing the program language courses and internship in this area, but we would say that the major factor in her language proficiency has been the total immersion with her host family, where English is not an option. We are very excited to see how proficient (or perhaps fluent!) she will be in April. She has inspired both of us to learn conversational Portuguese before her return!
Life Goals. While it is still early in the program, Caroline has expressed interest in some new potential vocational tracks as a result of the Global Citizen Year experience. The internship, the exposure to another culture, the host family experience, and the Global Citizen Year team building programs have opened her eyes to new opportunities that she may not have been aware of prior to going to Brazil. The key point here is not the actual vocation opportunities she is thinking about… it’s the DEPTH of which she is thinking through them and reasoning through what will be best for her as she moves on to the next level. She has developed into a deep thinker about “Big Picture” issues and how to make her own individual positive impact on the world.
Teamwork. Having worked on ensembles and casts with her background in theatre arts, Caroline was familiar with the importance of teamwork and working collectively toward a common goal. However, we sense that she has developed an even stronger sense of teamwork and unity working with her Brazilian cohort. She enjoys the unique expatriate bond with her peers within the cohort and shared many of the challenges and growth opportunities they have collectively experienced as a team. She is fiercely loyal to her teammates and looks forward to the cohort development curriculum and activities.
To be sure, there have been personal challenges in the Global Citizen Year experience as well. In the preparatory materials, the Global Citizen Year management team accurately depicts the adjustment cycle of a Fellow and Caroline’s fellowship has had some unique road bumps along the way. We often have to reset our perspective to remember that these are young adults one year removed from high school attempting to navigate through some major life changes and decisions while living continents away from their primary support base. We have really come to appreciate the Global Citizen Year staff for their savvy in anticipating the steps in the adjustment cycle and frequently engaging us on Caroline’s progress.
In closing, Global Citizen Year has indeed been a critical partner with us in Caroline’s journey and beginning the process of “allowing her to fly.” It is through their program design, communication plan and local support base that we have peace of mind and confidence that the Global Citizen Year 2014 campaign has been worth the effort for our daughter. We look forward to the second half of the program and the new adventures and learning opportunities Caroline will experience in 2014!
Ben and Linda Blackburn