Boren Scholarship Sends Student to Brazil

April 29, 2014 —  

Jennifer Siew - Boren Scholarship Recipient

Jennifer Siew’s passport has been put to good use over the years; since coming to Drexel, the international area studies major has traveled to seven countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Israel. Now, thanks to the prestigious Boren Scholarship, Siew is adding Brazil to her pages of arrival stamps.

The Boren Scholarship provides U.S. undergraduates with up to $20,000 to study abroad in areas critical to U.S. interests. In addition to studying Portuguese, Siew will be researching Brazil’s initiatives in microfinance and public health, with the hopes of one day creating a sister program in the Middle East.

Q: Why did you choose to go to Brazil to study microfinance and public health? Is there something specific about the way they’re approaching those topics that interests you?

A: Brazil's development over the last decade or so has been immense, and they've done a lot in the way of improving their health indicators and lifting people out of poverty. Brazil's public health system—a Systema Unico de Saude, or SUS—was revolutionary when it was first introduced in the late ’80s and its Community Health Worker (CHW) program is considered to be a model by first world nations, particularly in the UK.

At the same time, Brazil has a great Community Development Bank (CDB) system, targeting areas without access to normal, formal banking systems. I am interested, in general, in how microfinance services and community healthcare can intersect to lift people out of poverty—a growing interest of organizations such as the World Bank—and Brazil provides a nice source of study for this.

I also feel that Brazil is the perfect place for me now because eventually I would like to create sister programs in Palestine—and other Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries dealing with these services—and Brazil has recently demonstrated interest in further involvement in the MENA area, particularly Palestine.

Q: And on top of all that, you’re taking up Portuguese? When did you start studying the language?

A: I started studying Portuguese when I arrived to Brazil! That was early March, so it's been about two months now. I study at the Dialogo School for Portuguese in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. I have about five hours of class, Monday through Friday. Currently, I speak a strange hybrid of Modern Standard, Egyptian, and Levantine Arabic, and now, some Portuguese as well.

Q: What do you hope to take away from your time in South America?

A: In July, I will be moving to Sao Paulo to study at the University there, USP. When I leave, I hope to—of course—be nearly fluent in Portuguese, and I hope to have done much groundwork and research on the services and organizations I mentioned previously. I want to make a lot of connections with the workers in this field, and hopefully speak with many people who are served by these organizations as well.

Eventually, I would like to come back to Brazil and continue research, looking at the successes and failures of these Brazilian programs, helping to improve them, and creating policy suggestions for such programs in Palestine. Of course, there is still much work to be done here, as Brazil has a huge disparity between its poorer and richer populations, so I'd like to work here a bit as well, in addition to Palestine. I'm hoping to partner with a professor or faculty member at USP to conduct my research more formally, but if that doesn’t work out, I will be trying to travel and network with as many organizations as possible.

As an aside, I'm also becoming incredibly interested in the Afro-Brazilian culture here—it's so rich and omnipresent; I'd like to do some more exploration of that as well!

Want to learn more about Siew? Read her 2013 feature “Focused” in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Ask magazine.