Gap year in Brazil means more than traveling to Nichols


Mira LaNasa

Senior Sintra Nichols plans to take a gap year to travel to Brazil thanks to a scholarship program called Global Citizen.

During her junior year, senior Sintra Nichols felt she had lost purpose in her education. She wanted to get back on track, but found the only way to get back en route was to go off the trail entirely, and pioneer a new track which lands her in Brazil.

Sintra is popularly known for her academics, linguistics and sports. She was in Nordic skiing and track and field at some point in her high school career. She has been an A student historically. She is in Advanced Placement French and has a friend who lives in Italy, inspiring her to learn Italian. Now she will be living in Brazil for eight months, hoping to become fluent in Portuguese and get her education back on track.

A derailed education

“Toward the end of last year and the beginning of summer I was just getting so burned out of school like it felt like a chore. And I mean, it feels like that for a lot of people. I feel like everybody wants to value their education and I definitely want to value my education because I think that it can do so much for your future, but I stopped valuing it and I started viewing it as this thing that was in my way of doing things that I wanted to do instead of something that can help me get to where I want to go in the future,” Sintra said.

Sintra’s scholarship is through a program called Global Citizen Year, a nonprofit organization which sponsors kids who take gap years to travel to Asia, Africa or Latin America. She chose to live in Brazil instead of her other options Ecuador, India, and Senegal. Out of all of the opportunities she will have, she is most looking forward to becoming fluent in Portuguese, the official language of Brazil.

“I’ll have a host family, have a job, and language classes once week. I’ve started learning Portuguese, but I haven’t gotten that far,” Sintra said. “They give you a free Rosetta Stone over the summer, but I hope to not need it by then because it’s so similar to French and Italian that I can already understand like 60 percent of it. But I just need to learn it for myself so that I can actually see it and communicate. I’ve developed my own method for learning languages and so I don’t know if I’ll even need the Rosetta Stone. I’m hoping that I don’t.”

Sintra learned about Global Citizen Year last year and dedicated weeks to perfecting her application. She started the process in June and worked tirelessly on her application until August, when she accepted that it would never be perfect. After submitting her application she was required to perform two follow-up interviews. One was with a past scholarship receiver, and the other with the program director.

I had to write about something that made me passionate. I think it was kind of like a college application…I talked about that whole ‘American ideal’ that we have to save all the other countries, like it’s our job to make everybody more similar to us.

— Sintra Nichols

“I had to write about something that made me passionate. I think it was kind of like a college application,” Sintra said. “I think that one of my answers stuck out to [the interviewer] because he ended up writing it down. I talked about that whole ‘American ideal’ that we have to save all the other countries, like it’s our job to make everybody more similar to us. People go to Africa because they feel bad for them and they want to make them more American-like. I mean, obviously there is a lot of poverty there, but also few people actually make an effort to learn about the culture or what they could be if they weren’t, I don’t know, imperialized for hundreds of years. So that was one of the things that I wanted to rid from my brain because I know that it’s there and it’s in the brain of probably most Americans and it’s something that I want to experience my way out of.”

Two weeks later, Sintra received an email on her walk home from her job at Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop in downtown Stillwater, informing her that she had received the scholarship and will be working in Brazil in 2018. She basked in the excitement for the remainder of her walk home, only to inform her father first.

“I went back to my dad’s house and I was like, ‘Guess who got accepted?’ He was really excited for me but he nervous and really kind of sad that I was leaving. And then I ended up telling all of my friends. Not all of them but as I saw them I’d be like, ‘Hey, I have really good news! I was accepted into whatever and whatever,’ and I didn’t know how much they cared. But I was really excited to tell people,” Sintra explained.

A new mission

Sintra applied to this scholarship for a simple reason: to educate herself about different cultures and find her purpose in life. As someone who is thoroughly involved in extracurricular clubs such as Young Democrats, she is always looking for more activity. In traveling to Brazil, she hopes to discover a new view point: being a minority.

“I have never felt uncomfortable with my heritage, and that’s something that I know a lot of people do experience. Immigrants, for example. They come here and they’re automatically different and not-American at least to a lot of present Americans and that’s something that I’ve never had to experience or feel so I mean I feel sympathy for those people but I’ve never felt like empathy and I feel like that’s something that’s really important and becoming a global citizen,” Sintra said.

Sintra, during her eight months in Brazil, will be gone from August until April, meaning she will be abroad for her birthday as well holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. She is not upset about this, and instead is more excited to see how different these holidays will be.

“I can’t wait to see how they are going to react to it. It’s not going to be about family anymore, at least not for this year. It’s going to be about me learning about their families and I guess it’s kind of hard to explain. I’m eager to see what kind of stuff they do for birthdays more that I’m upset about and missing one of my many and recurring birthdays. I’ll have a ton of birthdays and I already have had a ton of birthdays and holidays at home. I know what they’re about,” Sintra said. “This is about new things.”

Foreign reactions, getting back on track

Sintra has not received any negative reactions from friends, teachers or immediate family members, and instead only received overwhelming support from them, especially from her close friends, such as senior Rana Kraftson.

I think it’s well-deserved. She spends a lot of time like studying language and she’s one of the most talented people I know at learning languages and she works really hard at it. ”

— Rana Kraftson

“I think it’s well-deserved. She spends a lot of time like studying language and she’s one of the most talented people I know at learning languages and she works really hard at it. So yeah, I think it was very well-deserved on her part,” Rana said. “I don’t even think she’ll be homesick. She’s pretty independent and I think she’ll meet a lot of cool people and she’s really easy to make friends with. So I think that she’ll make some really good friends there.”

Sintra has been grateful to be supported by her friends, but has not had similar reactions with her extended family. Before her great uncle passed away, he had printed off an article for her about how dangerous Brazil is. His article only pushed her to go more.

“I haven’t been getting negative reactions from friends. Mostly it’s just like, ‘I’ll miss you but I’m so excited for you.’ And from my parents they’re like, ‘Really keep in contact.’ Some of my slightly more distant family has been a little bit more negative, like my grandma, for example. Two of my grandmas, actually. They just straight up don’t want me to go,” Sintra said.

Sintra is not letting her extended family’s negative thoughts weigh her down, though she is reasonably concerned about her safety, as Brazil has high crime and violence rates. Despite this, she is looking forward to the trip and is hoping to come back to the States with a new perspective on education and a refreshed feel about life.

“I want to like get out and I want to experience something new,” Sintra said. “The comfortability thing that I feel here is something that I am not going to have there and it scares the crap out of me, but it’s also super exciting.”