The Journal Register (Medina, NY)

August 5, 2013

American in Americana

By HOWARD BALABAN howard.balaban@journal-register.com
Medina Journal-Register

Medina Journal-Register — Studying abroad while in college is something many students tend to try once.

Medina’s Charissa Farnsworth just finished her second trip abroad, and thanks to winning a Gilman Scholarship, the costs of the educational trip were significantly defrayed. The Gilman Scholarship Program is sponsored by the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Originally planned as a three-week trip, Farnsworth wound up spending a month in Americana, Sao Paolo in Brazil. The scholarship required Farnsworth to write an essay explaining how the trip to South America would be a benefit. Her student standing and grades also played a factor. In addition, she needed to add a “follow on” portion to the project that would help her “promote the scholarship and share the experience.”

For Farnsworth, the trip was a full-fledged cultural immersion and, according to her, a bit of a milestone for Genesee Community College as she said she was the first from the school to take this particular trip.

Making matters a bit more unique was Brazil’s national language is Portuguese, a language Farnsworth learned on the fly.

“I took Portuguese three hours a day, five days a week,” she recalled. “It’s hard, because it has so many more verb forms than English, and a lot of sounds in Portuguese are not in Spanish. It’s more complicated than Spanish.”

Farnsworth joked that her previous foreign language education was French, which of course did not help very much.

Being fully immersed in a foreign country helped Farnsworth gain an appreciation for the culture of its people. She went to a variety of different events and festivals, and she spent the month with a host family.

The family, she said, made a difference in the experience.

“I had people around me to make the trip easier,” she said. “Even though I didn’t speak the language, we were able to communicate enough and understand each other enough to get through.” She added the only member of the host family to speak any English was their daughter - her “host sister.”

Having such people around “made the trip,” she said.

“Brazil (this trip) was made by the people, and I would definitely go back again and visit,” Farnsworth said. “The biggest thing there is the people. Because of them I definitely feel like I experienced the culture, and I was most surprised by that and how attached I got to them.”

Still, being an American on foreign soil, she did stand out.

“I got a lot of attention as an ‘outsider,’ “ Farnsworth said. Oddly, thanks to being a Medina native, she was actually prepared for the drastic weather changes where she stayed.

“The weather was surprisingly cold,” she recalled. “Most of the time it was in the 70s, but it got really cold at night, and nobody in Brazil has heat. So when we had a few days when it was 40 and raining, to them it was freezing and the family I was with let me borrow sweaters, coats, and gloves.

“I tried to explain to them that I was used to it, but they still dressed me to where it looked like I was going out to play in the snow,” she laughed. The temperature shock, Farnsworth said, served as a learning experience.

“It wasn’t summer and sweltering hot. It was more like a mild spring or early fall, but I wasn’t prepared for that,” she said. “I’ll definitely be check the weather the next time I go anywhere.”

Farnsworth’s previous study abroad trip was to Ireland as part of her work towards the completion of her 2-year degree at GCC. She said she has started looking to move on to a 4-year school in either Chicago or Santa Barbara, California, but she added she is still looking.

Ultimately, she said she would like to become a freelance travel photographer, and as part of the scholarship requirement Farnsworth said she will soon be showcasing photos from both of her trips in both a school-wide and community-wide art show.

Blogging about the trip was also part of the project. Her blog entries are found at http://gccblogs.wordpress.com.

Farnsworth, a Medina native, is the daughter of Fred and Nancy Farnsworth. She has eight siblings.