Empowering Students to Research and Expand World View in Brazil – Part 1

Posted On June 26, 2013

Note: This is the first of a two-part feature on “Field School in Applied Anthropology”

When Anthropology professor Cassandra White studied in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 through a University of Florida program, she imagined that one day she would lead her own study abroad program. On June 13, White embarked on her fifth program to Brazil. She and eight Georgia State students will arrive in Rio to begin an intensive two-week program centered on applied anthropology.

White feels confident in her students’ abilities and enthusiasm: “We have a wonderful group this year who are interested in seeing some of the changes taking place as the city prepares for mega-events, like the World Cup and Olympics.”

“Field School in Applied Anthropology” features community development projects on education and healthcare and challenges Georgia State students to apply anthropology theory and ethnographic methods to their in-country experiences. White accepts both undergraduate and graduate students on her program, and she encourages them to conduct on-site research. This year, one student will study primatology and the effect of tourism on local environments, and another student will conduct a comparative analysis of the gentrification of Atlanta communities and Brazilian favelas. White encourages her students to submit their research to the Georgia State Undergraduate Research Conference (GSURC) or other professional conferences.

Cassie White

Cassie White, professor of anthropology, discussing her study abroad program during International Education Week 2012

Brazilian Beginnings

After studying in Brazil, Italy, and Mexico, White earned a Fulbright to conduct her doctoral dissertation on the out-patient experiences of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) treatment in Rio de Janeiro. The connections she developed as a scholar formed the backbone of her early programs to Brazil, and she regularly includes excursions to hospitals or clinics for Hansen’s Disease, which has allowed her to maintain research contacts over the years.  Through contacts with NGOs in several favela communities throughout Rio, White has expanded her own research interests to focus on structural inequalities in urban settings and urban development.  She’s also been able to arrange guest lectures for students by Brazilian and American scholars.

Lasting Impressions

In 2005, White co-led a program to Brazil with 25 students. The following year, she modified her program to focus more on medical anthropology, and since 2010, she has focused on applied anthropology. In total, White has led 86 students to Brazil, including this year’s cohort.

Kim White

Kim Ramsey-White, former study abroad student and director of the Research Training/Education Core in the Center for Excellence on Health Disparities Research

Students who participate in White’s programs are often compelled to return to Brazil to continue their studies. Some even establish careers at Georgia State and continue to contribute to the university’s academic excellence. Prof. Kim Ramsey-White participated in White’s programs in 2005 and 2006. After earning her Ph.D. in Research, Measurement and Statistics at Georgia State, she led her own program to Brazil and she now is the director of the Research Training/Education Core in the Center for Excellence on Health Disparities Research in the School of Public Health.

Ramsey-White never imagined that studying abroad would be a part of her doctoral program, but through perseverance, she applied for her passport, White’s program and the IEF scholarship. Weeks later she found herself in Rio, learning to see the world differently. “I remember going to the post office and it not being open. I got mad…. I said why aren’t these people working?…Then I collected myself and said ‘Self, what is wrong with you? You are not at home…this is new and different, and you must respect that not everywhere in the world operates the way you do in the US.’ The concept of getting a world view became very real and immediate.”

During Ramsey-White’s first program, she became intrigued with the way of life in the favelas – particularly the experiences of gang members. The following year, she conducted research on how gang members used ecumenical churches to escape the gang life.

As a study abroad student at the age of 40, Ramsey-White realized that she could help younger students have the opportunity to study abroad. In 2007, she led the first Early College High School study abroad program to Panama and Costa Rica with 14 African-American dual-enrollment students. In the following years, she led students to Japan, France and Spain, and then – finally – back to Brazil. “I replicated Cassie’s study abroad program with my students, it was all about health and gender and my students will tell you it was a life-changing experience for them, as well. To actually replicate the program Cassie did with my own students was a dream come true for me.”

This summer, three of White’s participants are returnees. “My repeat students see the changes over time, especially in construction and policy-making. Being able to see that in action is both interesting and exciting,” said White.

Advancing Georgia State’s Focus

White’s program is one of 48 faculty-led programs this Maymester/summer term. In total, nearly 540 Georgia State students will study abroad this summer. These numbers attest to the Office of International Initiatives’ commitment to achieve the University’s Strategic Plan goal to double the size of study abroad by 2015. Programming in the five emerging-market task force countries – Brazil, China, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey – is increasing; White’s program is one of 4 heading to Brazil this year.

For faculty who are considering leading a program, White advises that they draw on on-site contacts they already have and consider partnering with a university for arranging housing or classroom space. Her reflection at the conclusion of her program? “Stressful, but worth it.”