Matthews ’13 awarded second Fulbright year in Brazil

unnamed-3When Abbott Matthews ’13 was awarded a second Fulbright year in Brazil, she jumped at the opportunity to serve as a mentor for the incoming group of English Teaching Assistants (ETA) at the University of Brasilia. In addition to continuing her work with a program called Inglês Sem Fronteiras, which teaches English to students with a specific focus on sending students abroad, Matthews corresponded in an email, “Another year in Brazil would only strengthen my Portuguese skills, allow me to continue gaining experience, and let me use my time as a young adult exploring.”

Matthews came to Colby as a First Semester Abroad (FSA) student after spending her first semester of college in Salamca, Spain where “the travel bug [awoke] in me,” she said. Since then, Matthews has spent much of her time travelling. While majoring in Government and Latin American studies at the College, she studied abroad in Montevideo, Uruguay during her junior year and later did thesis research on political graffiti in Bogotá, Colombia. When Matthews was not abroad, she was a hammer thrower on the Women’s Track and Field team and served as a captain during her junior and senior years. She also tutored in the Farnham Writers’ Center and worked in the Career Center.

When Matthew originally applied to the Fulbright Foundation, she hoped to get an English Teaching Assistant position in Venezuela, but when she was not chosen to fill one of the two open spots, she looked for alternate options. Matthews said, “That same day [I found out], I received an email informing me that there were new openings in Brazil, as the government had expanded the program.”

In June 2013, Matthews learned that she received a Fulbright Scholarship and would begin teaching in Brazil in Feb. 2014. During her first year in Brazil, she dealt primarily with teaching English to engineering, biology and chemistry students. This year, she is working to train a new group of ETAs.

“Brazil has by no means been easy. In fact, it was pretty difficult at the beginning. Bureaucracy has no real meaning until you have been to Brazil. But, with all of that said, Brasilia (the capital where I am placed) has become home and I have built a pretty amazing life here. Once I got through all of the red tape and actually began teaching and making a difference at the University, I began to see how rewarding it was. I found a great side project (the ETA work only accounts for 15-20 hours a week) with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime doing research,” she said.

Matthews also spoke about the pros and cons of the Fulbright program: “It really depends on where you are placed in the country. I received an amazing placement in the capital of Brazil. While it is certainly more expensive (and our stipend is not luxurious), it has been incredible. There are always cultural or academic events happening and the city is very safe in comparison to other ETA placement cities. A huge plus is the great amount of freedom we are given as ETAs to implement projects and innovate at the universities. I have been able to play a huge role in shaping the programs with which I am working. A con of the program is the lack of communication between all of the host universities and the Fulbright Commission. However, with such a quick expansion of the program (30 ETAs in 2013 to 120 ETAs in 2014), this is probably going to improve over time.”

Matthews’ experience in Brazil has altered her career path. While she once saw a future in Foreign Service, she is now more interested in working with public policy. “As I have seen how Brazil´s education and health systems continue to struggle, I have found myself often thinking, ‘How can we fix this? Or at least improve it?’” she said.

After completing her second Fulbright year, Matthews hopes to get a job in Brazil before she begins the application process for graduate programs in the U.S., where she hopes to pursue a Masters in Public Policy with a focus on international policy.

When not working, Matthews tries to take advantage of opportunities to explore. She attended two World Cup games and took a tour of Brazil this past July, but she says her “biggest and proudest accomplishment has been running [her] first half-marathon in Rio de Janeiro,” where she came in third place for her age group.

Matthews’ time spent abroad also caused her to reflect on her time at the College. “Now that I have had more than a year away from [the College], I think perspective has taught me that the relationships I made with my professors were the best asset that Colby gave me. Living abroad and meeting so many different people with different life stories is incredibly important to me. So, if I were to say one thing that I was disappointed in at Colby, it would be the lack of diversity…. I don’t necessarily just mean race… I mean in terms of life experience and background too….More diversity at a school like Colby is only going to help students learn more from different perspectives and [understand] … the world,” she said.

When asked about her advice for current Colby students who might be interested in the Fulbright program, she said, “Take advantage of this time right after college and explore. You will gain a whole new perspective on life and your career. Too many of the people my age that I know are stressed about finding their career immediately. Let it happen and let it come to you. Pushing yourself to find the perfect thing will only limit you in the end.”

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