Morris’ passion for Brazil leads to travel scholarship

Katie Morris speaks with such enthusiasm about the culture and people of Brazil that it’s easy to overlook the fact that the University of Wisconsin-Madison senior has yet to set foot in South America’s largest country.

After studying Spanish in high school and learning Portuguese at UW–Madison, Morris says classroom discussions sparked her curiosity about a country she previously had not thought much about.

katie morris pic 1“I found myself looking to it during other international policy-oriented classes as well, especially with all the exciting things happening economically and socially in the region,” she says.

Morris, of Rosemount, Minnesota, is majoring in Portuguese and international studies with certificates in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and educational policy studies.

“People would ask me what I wanted to do after I graduate, and my response was usually a variation of ‘study in Brazil,’ but all the details were completely unknown,” she explains.

Now, she knows how she’s getting to Brazil: Morris has won a Brazilian Initiation Scholarship (BIS) Award through the Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA)—the first UW–Madison student to do so, according to the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies (LACIS) Program—which will give her the opportunity to spend several months traveling throughout the country.

“I was so surprised!” she says. “To be honest, I had applied thinking that I wouldn’t get it, mostly because many of the past recipients were doctoral or master’s students, and I was just an undergrad…This award gives me the sense that what I want to do can be a reality—much sooner than I thought.”

BRASA’s website describes the BIS as a “one-time $1,500 scholarship to do exploratory research or language study in Brazil” that “targets aspiring Brazilianists with relatively little or no experience in Brazil” and seeks to “deepen [their] commitment to Brazilian studies in the United States.”

While new to Brazil, Morris spent the spring semester of 2012 studying in Portugal. That experience allowed her to cultivate “a sense of my own independence and my ability to navigate unfamiliar areas, culturally and geographically” – good preparation for her next adventure.

Studying abroad, she says, “also gave me some first-hand experience using Portuguese in an immersion situation,” adding that she might face a bit of a challenge adapting to the Brazilian accent.

Still, Morris has had opportunities to practice her Portuguese with native speakers from Brazil. At UW–Madison, she has “tutored many Brazilians in English conversation through Cultural Linguistic Services.”

She also has met many Brazilians through BRIDGE (Building Relationships in Diverse Global Environments), a program through International Student Services that partners American students with international students studying in the U.S.

katie morris pic 2During her final year at UW–Madison, Morris has been “constructing a senior thesis about the program Ciencia Sem Fronteiras (Science without Borders) in Brazil”—a federal program that encourages scientists to conduct research in Brazil and funds study abroad programs for students involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors.

Her thesis also involves taking a close look at “Brazilian students here at UW–Madison, the bureaucratic processes behind their study and the institutions in the U.S. that assist the Brazilian government.”

As she travels throughout Brazil, with stops in such cities as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Belo Horizonte, Morris intends to build on her thesis work “to look at the flip side and see the Brazilian institutions, universities, English language programs, et cetera, that make international study possible for so many students.”

In her research, Morris plans to incorporate her favorite part of Brazilian culture: Its distinctive economic model “based on the unique character of Brazilian culture, one that couples open and inclusive social understandings with logical and innovative technical developments,” she says, that “poses an alternative to traditional capitalist conceptions of development” and produces “new realms and dimensions of educational policy” around the world.

Morris sees getting to Brazil this summer as just the first step of the next phase of her work, saying that she has no plans to let her passion for Brazil, its culture, its people and especially its food fade.

“My main goal is to gain that initial experience while pursuing the research I love to do, and possibly evaluate what areas I could further pursue if I visit or live in Brazil again,” she says.

“I absolutely will be pursuing Brazilian studies in my future,” she adds. “Whether that is here in the U.S., in Brazil or in another country, I know I will be making [Brazil] the central focus of my continuing studies in international education policy.”

— by Haley Henschel