We are taking some of our Brazilian friends on the road, or maybe they are taking us. The bottom line is that twenty-eight leaders of Brazilian universities are going to the U.S. and I get to go with them along with the executive director of Fulbright in Brazil and one of my Brazilian Embassy colleagues. We will break into three groups going to the east, west and middle of the U.S. The first goal is to sell leaders of American institutions on Brazil and sell Brazilians on American institutions.
That will be the easy part. Enthusiasm for exchange is through the roof. The second goal is harder: we need to channel that enthusiasm into practical results with real-live students and scholars moving between our two countries.
This is a Brazilian program; we are helping them and helping ourselves by making sure they get a good reception in the U.S. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff set in motion her plan, Ciência sem fronteiras or Science w/o Borders, to send 100,000 Brazilians to study overseas in the STEM fields (Science, technology, engineering & math). Half should go to the United States. President Obama’s 100,000 Strong for the Americas aspires to send students from the U.S. in the other direction.
Currently around 9000 Brazilians are studying in the U.S.; not many considering there are more than 192 million Brazilians. The Brazilians hope to get four or five times that number within the next few years. We got the first couple hundred Brazilian on planes for the U.S. last month. Now we have to do the same for a few thousand more. Our presidents have given us the direction, but if it is really going to happen it is up to us. Ringing in my mind is “If not us, who? If not now, when?” Maybe I am given to a littler hyperbole, but only a little.
We have the opportunity of a lifetime and what happens in the next couple of months will be crucial to the relations between the U.S. and Brazil for the next decades. This is not just hyperbole. In the next couple of years, we will exchange tens of thousands some of the best and brightest of our countries. If it works as I believe it will, this will create pathways and connections that become self-sustaining with a positive feedback loop. People and ideas will flow between the two biggest democracies in the hemisphere; friendships will flower.
My group will be on the east coast. I chose the east coast because it is the part of the country I know best, where I can add the most value. (I also am happy to have the opportunity to go home and will save the USG a little money on the days I can stay at my own house.) We will be in New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. There are many more places we should go and we have not forgotten about them, but we had to go where we could in the short time we have. Our inability to reach a wider group is one reason I will write on this blog at every stop.
This will be a journey of discovery for me. I want to come back knowing more about the landscape of American higher education as pertains to exchanges. I want to understand the practical details of Science w/o Borders and the role that we can play to make it a greater success. And I want to make a record of all this so that I can share what I think will be an important learning experience.
So I invite you all to come along.