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Lessons From In and Out of the Classroom

“[Receiving a scholarship from ISSS] meant a lot, because my parents couldn't afford to send me to school here otherwise.” Barbara Sampaio Felix, Brazil

Growing up in São Paulo, Brazil, Barbara Sampaio Felix used to watch planes take off into the sky from the nearby air force base. Now, she’s learning to build them. Earlier this year, Barbara graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics from the University of Minnesota.

Barbara always saw a path for herself in the field of aerodynamics, as both her parents are engineers, and she excelled in the sciences at school. After graduating high school she wanted to continue her studies in the United States, where aerodynamics is a growing field. She discovered the University of Minnesota and the scholarships for international students managed by International Student & Scholar Services.

Barbara remembers the application process and how most scholarships in the U.S. were for American citizens. She felt lucky to find one at UMN she could apply for. “It meant a lot, because my parents couldn't afford to send me to school here otherwise,” she says, explaining the difficulties that many international students have in paying for education in the U.S. “Most of our parents have to pay for everything, and we can’t get loans like most Americans. Converting currencies also makes everything more expensive, and changes (the price) over time. When I first came (to the U.S.) one dollar here was $2 in my currency, then it went up to $3.50 and now is at $4. So I would have been spending a lot more.”

After receiving her scholarship offer, Barbara chose the University of Minnesota to further her studies. Here, she was able to help with research projects, work as a teaching assistant, and serve as the vice president of the University’s Rocket Team. In addition to studying in her field, Barbara also noted that she was able to learn a lot about other cultures while living on-campus in Global Gopher Community, a unique Living Learning Community of international and domestic students who are interested in learning about new cultures. “I was exposed to several cultures I had never interacted with, which was nice because I could get to know people from all over the world,” she describes.

Living with people from other countries also allowed Barbara to examine her own culture in a new way that she feels will be beneficial in her future. “Before coming here I didn’t think about my culture that way I do now,” she remembers. “I learned about me and Brazil a lot and got to see a difference between me and others. I’ve got to see a lot of good things and bad things about my culture.” She believes this experience will help her be more successful at a diverse workplace in the future.

When asked what advice she would give to incoming international students, Barbara says, “Don't be afraid to try new things and communicate with other people, even though you have no idea where they come from. I think that’s a nice experience you get to have in the U.S. You go to one place, but you see people from many others. Go ahead and try, and don't have prejudice against other people.” Her academic advice was simple: “Do your homework!”

This fall, Barbara will continue studying aerodynamics in a master’s program at Georgia Tech. She hopes to work in space vehicle design, and she would also like to help more people from Brazil study in the United States.

Date Published: July 2018

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