Missouri State University
Michelle Ciesielski

Michelle Ciesielski

Graduate student learns that no matter the culture, we’re all people

Graduate student Michelle Ciesielski has broadened her horizons by studying away in Brazil over the summer. 

Having never left the country, Missouri State University graduate student Michelle Ciesielski was nervous but excited when she made the decision to study abroad in Brazil this summer.

“I went to Brazil because I wanted to learn about other people and cultures and to see more of the world beyond what I already knew,” said Ciesielski. “I had no idea what to expect and because of that, I think it made the trip even more incredible.”

The trip abroad was part of a course named Interpersonal Effectiveness led by Dr. Jeffrey Cornelius-White, professor of counseling, leadership and special education.

It was designed to help provide the students with intercultural engagement that they may not otherwise have had. These engagements were a key component in helping students work to identify and improve their personal, interpersonal and intercultural skills.

While in Brazil, Ciesielski and the other students on the trip benefited from co-facilitation from about five local hosts, comprised of local faculty and students.  

“They did everything from helping to translate and setting up opportunities to experience the people and city of Fortaleza, to driving us around to anywhere we needed or wanted to go,” Ciesielski said. “The people of Brazil have such depth to them; I loved greeting people with a kiss on the cheek.”

Students on the trip got to experience many activities such as attending an anthropology class at the Federal University, participating in a dance workshop and shopping in the city market. They also stayed at a shaman's house and participated in a healing ceremony for several hours on a remote beach reached by dune buggy.

“When I was there, I just wanted to do and see as much as possible. Surviving on fewer hours of sleep was commonplace,” Ciesielski said.

Ciesielski said the biggest struggle while traveling abroad was having to come back to the United States and readjust to a fast-paced life when Brazil had been so relaxed.

“In Brazil, there were differences in cultures, but at the very heart of things, we all feel the same. There were multiple times when I was able to relate to people on a deep level despite our differences and the language barrier.”