Partnering over Pao de Queijo in Brazil

Recently, I accompanied 32 U.S. college and university representatives on a whirlwind study tour to Brazil. Covering five cities in six days, this remarkable group of faculty, staff, and administrators bonded over bus rides, pão de queijo, and the wealth of opportunities presented by the Brazilian higher education system.

This study tour was part of the International Academic Partnership Program (IAPP), the flagship initiative of IIE’s Center for International Partnerships in Higher Education, which guides U.S. higher education institutions through a one-year strategic planning process for partnering with a particular focus country—in this case, Brazil. In São Paulo, Campinas, Piracicaba, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasília, participants witnessed a variety of Brazilian higher education institutions: federal, state, private, technical, religiously affiliated, and even some government-affiliated organizations. Our hope was for the group to make meaningful contacts, learn about the challenges Brazilian institutions face, and return to their home campuses excited about building partnerships.

The trip more than exceeded our expectations. 

On the last day of the study tour, I led a short reflection exercise in which each person revealed an enlightening moment. I felt truly inspired by their responses. Some participants were impressed by specific institutions, such as PUC-Rio (the Pontificia Universidade Catolica-Rio), a Jesuit-affiliated oasis in the heart of Rio that boasts a rainforest-like campus, a 24-hour on-call policeman dedicated to the study abroad office, and a director of international programs, Dr. Rosa Marina Brito-Meyer, whose charisma and ingenuity had the IAPP participants arguing over who could better entice her to come lead their school.

One participant from a community college told me how she beamed with excitement after her visit with SENAC, a private institution in São Paulo with strengths in the technical and vocational disciplines. Her enthusiasm was just as much about tangible partnership possibilities as it was about being reassured that community colleges have a major role to play in U.S.–Brazil partnerships.

One of my biggest personal takeaways from this study tour was the cooperative learning among the U.S. participants. Our motley group of staff, faculty, and administrators was comprised of language professors, astrophysicists, provosts, historians, biochemists, and translators. Their ages ranged from mid-20s to late-60s! Regardless, the relationships that the participants built in those six days were intense and fruitful. The oldest learned from the youngest, the linguist from the kinesthesiologist, and every combination in between. As we parted ways amid sighs and tight hugs, we already had started planning for a raucous IAPP Brazil reunion in 2013.