Comfort Abuwa, Harvard College Class of 2021, completed a J-term cultural immersion trip in São Paulo through the Mentoring and Language Acquisition in Brazil Program.
Remembering São Paulo
By Comfort Abuwa
Comfort Abuwa ‘21 (left) meeting her mentee in person for the first time. Her mentee, Thalita (right), drew a picture of her in anticipation of the meeting
When I parted ways with Thalita, the curly-haired, sixteen-year-old artist-in-the-making whom I had mentored for the past few months, and embarked on a tearful ride to São Paulo International Airport, I knew that São Paulo wasn’t just a stamp on my passport or a checkmark on my bucket list. The physical and mental journeys I took during my time there instilled in me a strong appreciation for the familiar and a growing curiosity for the foreign and new.
Even now as I walk through Cambridge, embracing the well-known aura of a budding spring season and the richness of New England history, my thoughts cannot escape the coaxing force of gravity that pulls them south to São Paulo. I reflect on her beautiful people, a sample of the innumerable shades present in Brazil, a country that can be defined by no single color. I visualize her pichação sprawled buildings that hold the markings of this cryptic style of graffiti that teeters on the border of art and vandalism. My skin remembers her heat that mimicked a warm compress at times and a scorching blaze at others. I can never forget the sweet taste of suco de manga e açaí, a fan favorite within my group, or fresh guava and passion fruit, so abundant in the colorful local markets. But at the core of my reminiscence are my mentees turned friends. Unyielding in their quest for knowledge and fervent in their desire to ameliorate the world, the students of MLAB will be the game-changers of São Paulo.
The MLAB J-term immersion was the culminating event following months of one-on-one mentoring between 14 Harvard students and 14 high-potential, high-need Brazilian students who earned scholarships to attend the highest ranking Brazilian high schools. Scheduled programming during the immersion fostered meaningful connections between MLAB participants and free days allowed mentors to explore the city spots our mentees frequented.
When we began our program we were warned that we would not know São Paulo by the end of our two weeks. We would not know São Paulo even after years of living there. I couldn’t agree more. Her magnitude is daunting, and her evolving nature renders her averse to limiting labels. I wonder if any finite amount of time would allow us to encapsulate her complexity. São Paulo remains a dense concrete jungle whose thicket I have scarcely uncovered. Nonetheless, I remain determined to trek deeper.
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