Adding Value to Travel Abroad While teaching English in Brazil, a student reaches out to learn more about speech-language pathology in her host country. Student's Say
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Student's Say  |   August 01, 2016
Adding Value to Travel Abroad
Author Notes
  • Heather Beckius, BA, is a first-year graduate student at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston. She plans to work in a medical setting with children and adults and eventually earn a research doctorate. habeckius@gmail.com
    Heather Beckius, BA, is a first-year graduate student at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston. She plans to work in a medical setting with children and adults and eventually earn a research doctorate. habeckius@gmail.com×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / International & Global / Student's Say
Student's Say   |   August 01, 2016
Adding Value to Travel Abroad
The ASHA Leader, August 2016, Vol. 21, 42-43. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.21082016.42
The ASHA Leader, August 2016, Vol. 21, 42-43. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.21082016.42
Last summer, I was laughing and joking with white-coat-clad university students as we scooted through the halls of the Hospital de Clínicas, the major public hospital in Porto Alegre, Brazil. I sometimes had trouble keeping up with the fast-paced conversations—which rose and fell with the prosodic, nasal sounds of Portuguese—but I had learned “larynx,” “dysphagia” and enough other terminology specific to our field to learn about the conditions of the patients.
But I wasn’t in Brazil for volunteer service or to study abroad. I lived in southern Brazil for nine months on a Fulbright English-teaching grant, where my primary responsibility was to teach English to university students at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).
I graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, where I studied English literature and Spanish. I was accepted to graduate school in speech-language pathology and to the Fulbright program, and decided to accept the Fulbright and defer grad school.
The Fulbright Commission encourages students to undertake supplementary projects during their free time in Brazil, so I began taking classes through the university’s speech-language pathology department (fonoaudiología in Portuguese), editing and translating research from Portuguese to English, and observing my mentor Deborah every Thursday at the university hospital with her students.
The Fulbright grants are fantastic funded opportunities that allow students to go abroad, but they—and many other funded travel grants—do not directly relate to speech-language pathology or audiology. Making connections at the communication sciences and disorders (CSD) department at UFRGS took some effort.
Students who receive Fulbright grants may request placement cities, so the first thing I did was to research which universities had a CSD department. But after I was assigned to Porto Alegre, it was up to me to try to connect with the professors in the department.

A lack of correspondence, I learned, didn’t necessarily mean a lack of interest; sometimes showing up at a professor’s office to introduce myself got the ball rolling better than a series of email requests.

Make connections
For students interested in replicating a similar experience, I would advise them to talk to anyone and everyone who could potentially connect them with a CSD professional or mentor. For example, I started telling my Brazilian friends that I was interested in taking CSD classes, and I asked whether they knew anybody who was studying it. Soon enough, several students introduced me to their professors in person or gave me names and contact information.
Persistence was key, especially in Brazil where the culture is more relaxed, and where some of my American friends would show up at a scheduled meeting only to find that the professor had forgotten about it. A lack of correspondence, I learned, didn’t necessarily mean a lack of interest; sometimes showing up at a professor’s office to introduce myself got the ball rolling better than a series of email requests.
No matter in what country or type of institution a travel-grant-funded student is placed, contacting CSD faculty at the nearest university can be a good way to get involved. If there is no department at the nearby university, getting in touch with speech-language pathologists or related professionals in the city is the next best thing.

No matter in what country or type of institution a travel-grant-funded student is placed, contacting CSD faculty at the nearest university can be a good way to get involved.

Experience new things
Of course, being abroad is a time to be open to all kinds of experiences. Not only did I find myself testing a new language and trying new foods like pão de queijo (cheese bread) and brigadeiro (chocolate bonbon), I was also willing to explore different professional interests.
For example, when I arrived in Brazil, my primary interest was in aphasia. I had the contact information for the SLP specializing in aphasia at the university, but never received a response. However, I took advantage of the other contacts I made, and spent most of my time shadowing Deborah, a dysphagia specialist, as she treated neonatal and pediatric patients in the acute-care wing of the hospital.
I enjoyed my time with this population and setting so much that I hope to focus on pediatric feeding and swallowing during graduate school and beyond. Getting involved with any area—not just a specific area of interest—can lead to more connections, more opportunities to practice speech and language-related terminology in a foreign language, and maybe even spark a new passion.
I encourage CSD students going abroad to get creative in the ways they connect with professionals at their travel site. One of my favorite memories from Brazil was traveling by myself to Salvador—1,400 miles away—for a national speech and hearing conference. Attending several days’ worth of lectures from Brazilians and other professionals in North and South America was an excellent way to network and gain knowledge—and hitting the beach was an added bonus!
Overall, my experience working with SLPs in Brazil was a “coisa linda” as Brazilians would say—a beautiful thing—and made my Fulbright experience even more exhilarating than it already was.
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August 2016
Volume 21, Issue 8