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Memoirs of a Gustie: Amelia Espinosa

“Post Study Abroad Thoughts: Did I Come Back to a Nightmare?”

For my J-term I chose to study in Salvador, Brazil. I was looking forward to learning about another country and culture. Per the syllabus, I knew to expect that “Through coursework, workshops, tours, site visits to local NGO’s, excursions, and service learning projects the course will explore the historical and contemporary constructions of race, class and gender inequality in Brazil.” My experience in Brazil taught me about all of those things and so much more. Being in a foreign country that has a different culture, different customs, and speaks a different language requires a certain amount of tolerance and willingness to adapt. Throughout my time in Brazil I learned to have a deeper appreciation for diversity. The current legislation makes it apparent that the U.S. is lacking said appreciation.

Knowing that the inauguration was in January, I had jokingly stated that I would not be returning back to the United States for another four years, I would just stay in Brazil. After spending time before I left scrolling through my newsfeed, the thought sounded more and more appealing. The new trainwreck of a president (who looks like he rolled in cheeto dust) was making a huge mess with his executive orders. The more I saw the more angry I got. The thought of ignoring everything and staying in a foreign country where I could be ignorant to the atrocities happening in the US sounded very appealing. First education, then the EPA, then reproductive rights! The more I saw the more I wanted to scream.

After my month in Brazil I was appalled by what I was seeing. We had spent the month being taught the importance of tolerance. I had learned how diverse cultures were fun and so interesting to learn about. I witnessed how people in Brazil with a variety of different beliefs are able to coexist peacefully, and in some instances, even celebrate each other. I used to feel like the United States was moving in that same direction, but after returning from my trip it seems that all the progress that had been made was frustratingly being reversed. All of the values I had learned in my time abroad were no longer things that were being appreciated in the country that I called home. The United States was supposed to be ‘the melting pot,’ the country where everyone belonged, was welcome, and if they worked hard, could become something. There was diversity and there was respect, but while I was gone a man who disagreed with all of those sentiments took office and began enforcing his beliefs, what I see as un-American beliefs, on the rest of us.

As we were coming back, news of the travel ban broke. The whole thing gave me a pause because I didn’t understand how he could say people entering the country legally with green cards and visas were no longer allowed to enter. Upon my arrival in Chicago, just sitting there watching the news was making feel sick. The ban wasn’t only offensive because no refugee from any of the seven countries has been found to be a terrorist, but it was also very upsetting because it was separating families and essentially ruining many people’s lives without any warning. I was at the airports where people were being detained and where others were protesting. I knew this because it could be seen on social media, but there were no signs of it in the airports. The concept of acceptance and equality which we had been studying for the last month was right at the forefront of our own country’s consious once again. I felt so guilty about the whole situation because the people being detained hadn’t done anything wrong and the only reason I was allowed to enter the country without suspicion was because I am a white, Christian, American.

Throughout my J-term, I learned about the importance of speaking out against what is wrong. The history of Brazil screams that letting oppression go unnoticed can have a catastrophic result. Both American and Brazilian history provide endless examples of how those who stand up against prejudice are opposed, but as the world progresses (even at a glacial pace), justice prevails. I believe justice will win if we continue to speak out and refuse to accept the forces that seek to divide us; we just need to keep fighting.

Amelia is a Gustavus first yeat from Forest Lake, Minnesota. She is currently studying Political Science and also plans to pursue a minor in Spanish and Peace Studies. She enjoys reading, traveling, napping, watching hockey, and spending time with her family. 


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