Empowering Students to Research and Expand World View in Brazil – Part 2

Note: This is the second of a two-part feature on the “Field School in Applied Anthropology” study abroad program.  

Jessica Glass held many jobs by her 35th birthday:  dog groomer, beauty salon owner, and hairdresser, just to name a few.

But it was her time as a pet supply store employee that helped change her career path.  Bright, adventurous, and bold, she pursued her MA in anthropology after a fluke conversation with a Centers for Disease Control public health researcher, who happened to be a regular customer in her store.

“He told me that he needed more anthropologists on his team for his next expedition to Nairobi to research malnourishment, and my heart started beating very fast and I began to shake,” said Glass, who earned an anthropology degree from Georgia State (B.A. ’00).  “I never thought that becoming an anthropologist could be a viable career choice.”

Fast forward a year, Jessica, now a graduate student in Georgia State’s Department of Anthropology, took Dr. Cassandra White’s Gender, Race, and Class in Complex Societies course (ANTH 4040/6040).  A travel enthusiast who has already explored many eastern European countries and Pakistan (as well as studied abroad in France during her undergraduate studies), she quickly became engrossed in learning about the structural inequalities imbedded in the favela communities of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and planned her future international adventure.


Jessica Glass visits the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she studied within Georgia State’s Field School in Applied Anthropology study abroad program.

“As soon as I began studying and learning about Rio, I knew I had to go there,” Jessica said.

Mesmerized by the people and culture of Brazil, she embarked on Dr. White’s “Field School in Applied Anthropology” study abroad program this past summer.  On the heels of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Games and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro has transformed dramatically in the course of year, Jessica said of her experience.

“New buildings were popping up everywhere, so many people were displaced,” Jessica said.  “The communities are being gentrified, similar to the effects of the preparations of 1996 Olympics on Atlanta.”

Additionally, Jessica discussed the widespread public protests over poor public services and the rising cost of living in the favelas, or impoverished communities in the suburbs of Brazil.

“We were always safe and kept far away from the demonstrations, but you could feel the energy of the city from the people. Whether we were on the beach or visiting a landmark, everyone we met was talking about it,” Jessica said.  “The favela communities had massive concerns about the inadequate access to healthcare, education, and transportation – which jumped in price from last year.”

She explained how the informal vans that served the favela communities were recently banned, leaving residents to rely on the more expensive and less efficient public bus system.  The result?  Huge delays, overcrowded busses, and general frustration among low-income residents who relied on the cheaper transportation to get to work, keep their kids in school, and access hospitals.

Jessica recognized how the city’s public protests and demonstrations were influenced by the social stratifications and structural inequalities of the poor population in Rio, and how other cities also face similar uprisings due to impending worldwide events.  Thus, her master’s thesis topic and subsequent research on social movements was born.  She will present her research at the American Anthropologists Association annual meeting this November in Chicago.  She credits Dr. White’s support and encouragement for her research focus.

“Dr. White is an incredible teacher and leader.  She always encouraged us to find our own way in and out of the classroom, which I appreciated.  She teaches us the material and leaves it up to us to discover the rest on our own – that’s what makes us better anthropologists,” Jessica said.

Her advice to students interested in studying abroad?

“Just go!  You owe it to yourself to experience studying abroad at least once in your time as a Georgia State student,” she implores.  “When you aren’t a student, you don’t have access to the same things, so don’t let this opportunity pass you by.”

Jessica, a recipient of the Georgia State International Education Fee (IEF) Study Abroad Scholarship, said her study abroad experience in Rio allowed her to hone in on her research, report on social movements, and help be a voice for humankind.  Her experience also encouraged her to pursue her doctorate and with the goal of becoming an anthropology professor.

“I have proven to myself that I can go back and hold down any job, but why?”  Jessica ponders.  “I’m so intellectually engaged and anthropology is so inside of me right now that I don’t want to stop.”

Though teaching is in her future, Jessica clarifies that her role as a student will never change.

“For years, I’ve taken issue when people ask me what I do, because what I have done for work in the past several years has never been about me, and not really how I want to identify myself,” Jessica said.  “Now, it doesn’t matter what I do for work. As an anthropologist, I’m always going to be a student.  I’m always going to be learning about people, behaviors – anything.  It’s a liberating feeling.”

Advancing Georgia State’s Focus

White’s program was one of 48 faculty-led programs this past Maymester/summer term. In total, nearly 540 Georgia State students studied 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.