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A Greater Purpose: Cultural Exchange in Brazil on OU’s “Adventure Awaits” Program

This June, OU Modern languages professor Paulo Moreira led a group of students on an unforgettable study abroad experience in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — home to OU’s Study Center — and surrounding areas. Students on the program, entitled Adventure Awaits: Exploring Brazilian Culture, completed a course in Brazilian Culture and learned on the go while exploring important cultural sites, museums and natural wonders like Sugar Loaf Mountain and Copacabana Beach. For Yvette Cassadore, a Native American Studies major and member of the San Carlos Apache tribe of Southwest Arizona, the experience was a deeply resonant and personal one, as she had the opportunity to connect with indigenous Brazilians, learning about their culture as well as sharing her own.

The CIS Snapshot spoke with Yvette, who shared her photos from the trip, about why this study abroad experience was so meaningful for her.

First of all, can you tell me your year, major, and where you are from?

I’m a senior at the College of Arts & Science majoring in Native American Studies with an emphasis in Tribal Governance, Law & Policy. I’m a Chiricahua Apache of Southwest Arizona, enrolled in the San Carlos Apache Tribe and reside in Bylas, Arizona. I am of the White Water and Eagle clans.

Why did you choose the Rio: Adventure Awaits program for your study abroad experience? Have you studied abroad before?

The Rio Adventure Awaits program is my first study abroad experience. I grew an interest after meeting with Brittany Da Silva, who gave a wonderful presentation on her experience in Brazil. I’ve always had a passion to network with Indigenous tribes to create an opportunity of cultural exchange. I knew that this study abroad program was the perfect opportunity.

Your photos from the summer show you in traditional dress at various sites in Rio. Can you tell me the story behind those, and anything you'd like to share about your own background and heritage?

I wore my traditional attire, which in English is called “camp dress.” This has been in my culture for generations and is still worn within my Tribe today. In my community there is a saying: “it takes a village to raise a child.” So every chance I get I pay homage to my people by representing them with honor. My traditional outfits are a representation of the Apaches and our very existence. Each distinct symbol and design is a story of Mother Earth and my clans. For me, it’s important and symbolic to wear my Traditional attire. It is more than a wardrobe — it’s holistic. I am humbled each time I am given an opportunity to bring voice to my people, such as this opportunity to speak of my experience.

How did you end up connecting with indigenous people in Brazil, and what was that experience like?

Each day we had a schedule, and so one day we were scheduled to visit the Federal University of Minas Gerias, where Professor Moreira arranged for us to meet with Indigenous students. I was excited! We entered the Indigenous Medicinal garden, and it was a beautiful feeling to be in the presence of powerful energy which came from the plants. In those moments I knew that it was for a far greater purpose that I was placed there. In Indigenous culture, we are taught that there is a reason for everything — relationships, meetings and so forth — and that day the universe had aligned the stars to bring us together. The conversations were humbling and emotional for us all, we couldn’t help but shed tears as we hugged and parted ways.

Overall, what did you think of your experience in Rio, and how did it impact you?

My overall experience in Rio was amazing and a blessing for sure. Most people choose study abroad solely to travel, but I chose this program to meet with the Indigenous Brazilians and to have a cultural exchange. I have learned so much in the short amount of time I was in Brazil. I am truly thankful for Professor Moreira and the University of Oklahoma for giving me this opportunity. I believe there is always room for growth and learning, and this has impacted me internally and I am fortunate to share this journey with my fellow Apaches.

What are your goals for the future – OU & beyond?

I plan to continue my education and join a program at OU’s College of Law. My goal is to obtain my degrees and then return home to my reservation in Arizona to help my people and community.

Interested in study abroad with OU in Rio? Visit the OUR website to learn more.

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