Kenia is a senior at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, MA. Kenia entered the Massachusetts MENTOR home of Gizelle and Bob Lynch at the age of 16, a loving home where she has remained since. Kenia received a Stepping Stones grant in the spring of 2015 that enabled her to study abroad through a 5-week Portuguese immersion program in Florianopolis, Brazil.
CF: What are you studying and what is your major?
KR: I’m studying criminal justice with minors in psychology and Portuguese.
CF: How did you become interested in your focus area, and what are your future career plans?
KR: I lived in Brazil until the age of 7, when my mother’s life was tragically taken. My father and I moved to the United States, seeking a better life. He was eventually deported back to Brazil when I was 16, and I entered the foster care system. While I love my Mentors and live with them still, my frustration with losing my birth parents sparked a deep interest in the criminal justice system, specifically in the areas of homicide and immigration. I developed a desire to work as a homicide detective, a role that will allow me to work directly with victims and advocate for their rights. My past allows me to empathize with victims who have lost loved ones and are facing criminal charges and/or deportation. I can offer comfort and understanding, and perspective to individuals in need.
CF: What inspired you to study abroad in Brazil?
KR: Studying abroad in Brazil allowed me to reconnect with my roots and enabled me to perfect my Portuguese. Although I can speak the language fluently, I needed help with my writing and comprehension skills. The ISA (International Study Abroad) language immersion program focused on improving students’ reading, writing and comprehension skills, which I really needed assistance with. The program also counted as credit toward my minor in Portuguese, which I will now be able to complete. I’m also still in touch with some of my professors there, who will remain great resources for me as I continue to develop my language skills here in the U.S.
CF: How will mastering Portuguese help you achieve your future career plans?
KR: Being bilingual – with a degree to prove it – will open more doors for me professionally. I’d love to work with individuals facing immigration issues- specifically Brazilians. Fluency in another language will allow me to advocate for victims in a stronger, more meaningful way. I can offer comfort to victims, walk them through the legal processes, and help them understand why certain changes are happening. With this skill, I can help a wider demographic of individuals in need, thus making me more marketable.
CF: What have you learned about yourself as a student studying abroad?
KR: I embraced my Brazilian roots in all kinds of ways. I loved the food, the language, the vibrancy of the culture…my bright personality fit right in. I felt like I was home. I loved exploring the country on the weekends, learning about environmental and political issues facing the country, visiting Iguazu Falls, and meeting local Brazilians. I also frequently found myself tutoring other students on their language assignments (especially on long bus excursions to explore the sights!) and realized that I have a true passion for helping others. This reinforced my aspiration to work in the field of criminal justice.
CF: How did a Stepping Stones grant help you achieve your goals?
KR: I would not have gotten the chance to study abroad, and I wouldn’t have enough credits to complete my Portuguese minor. I’m now on track to graduate this May with a major and two minors, and I am incredibly grateful for the grant. I was also able to visit my father and grandmother in Brazil, who I had not seen in years. The experience was incredible. Thank you!