I studied abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Florianopolis, Brazil this summer through CGIS: Global Course Connections (GCC) Theatre and Incarceration program. GCC has two required portions. The first portion is a class taken during the winter term. In this class, I learned how theatre created social change within prison systems through readings, quizzes, and facilitating my own weekly theatre workshops in prisons through the Prison Creative Arts Projects (PCAP). The second portion of GCC is the Brazil exchange. My class and I studied abroad in Brazil for three weeks where we participated and observed theatre work in Brazilian prisons, hospitals, and favelas.
During my time in Brazil, we worked with students from the University of Rio who has a program similar to Michigan’s PCAP called Teatro em Communidade. They do theatre work inside of prisons and within their community. I had an opportunity to work in a men’s prison and a women’s prison. With this specific opportunity, I was able to learn beyond a classroom setting and get a hands-on learning experience on how theatre produced social change within prison systems on a global scale. In my class, I learned that theatre workshops are one of the few opportunities for prison inmates to share emotion and self-expression in a place that tries to strip away their humanity. I was able to learn first-hand the impact that weekly theatre workshops has participants in Michigan prisons, and I was able to see the same impact in Brazilian prisons as well. This program showed me the power that theatre can have in any country. By going to Brazil, I was able to learn that a language barrier was only a minor obstacle to learn and perform theatre workshops. Theatre is an artistic form of self-expression that anyone can perform even with a language barrier.
Not only did I do theatre work, I was also able to go sightseeing. I was able to go to many tourist attractions such as the city Santa Teresa, hiking Pico da Tijuca, and seeing the infamous colorful steps of Escadaria Selarón. My favorite tourist attraction was one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Christ the Redeemer. Christ the Redeemer is a 98 ft. statue of Jesus Christ that is located at the peak of the Corcovado Mountain in Tijuca Forest National Park. It is placed to overlook the city of Rio as a symbol of Christianity. It was amazing to be able to climb to the top to see an enormous statue of Jesus before my eyes.
Overall, my experience was able to enrich my Sociological education. By going to Brazil, I was able to learn how I can create social change internationally in non-traditional settings, such as in prisons and hospitals. I am thankful for my opportunity to study abroad. I will always cherish my trip to Brazil for deepening my knowledge and perspective of the theatre work that I do. One of my favorite moments of the trip is when an inmate thanked my theatre group for visiting the prison. Translated from Portuguese he said, “Thank you for coming. Prison has started to affect my mental health, and it is great to have this space to laugh and let go.” After listening to him, I realized the positive impact that artistic expression can have on people despite a language barrier. I hope to continue learning about the criminal justice system and find ways that I can create change.