MORGANTOWN – West Virginia University College of Law 2017 study abroad program recently returned from Brazil and it changed the perceptions of many a law student.

Students spent two-and-a-half weeks visiting the rural Amazon in Manaus, urban Vila Velha (Vitoria) and Rio de Janeiro. This year, Alison Peck, WVU law professor and director of international programs, and Elaine Wilson, WVU tax professor and president of the West Virginia Tax Institute, were lead facility members in Brazil. Among their students were Stephen Scott and Bradley Wuest.

WVU Law students pose at Sugarloaf Mountain.

“I had a truly unforgettable experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life,” Scott, a second-year law student at WVU, told The West Virginia Record. “Each leg of the trip ingrained cherished memories (that) are a true blessing, and I am incredibly grateful to WVU Law for such an opportunity.”

He said two years prior, he visited Trinidad and Tobago and that trip changed his worldview. It was his first study abroad experience and it made him want to learn more about his role as a global citizen.

“(This) Brazil trip expanded my worldview because I discovered how parallel and almost identical situations abroad mimic those in my own state of West Virginia,” he said

Scott said the 2015 tragedy in Mariana, Brazil, where the Samarco dam broke and killed 20 people and wildlife reminded him of the 1972 Buffalo Creek flood in West Virginia.

“We can use situations like this to compare and contrast respective states responses,” he said. “We can look beyond the boundaries of our country to be proactive in our decision-making and to learn how issues we face at home mimic those abroad.”

While in Rio, he also learned that funding in a Rochinha favela didn’t provide enough resources to prepare students for higher education. He plans on rallying other WVU students to donate money and supplies to a Rochinha daycare center this year.

“I may not fully understand how education works in Brazil,” Scott said, “but I do understand the power of education and the effect it can have. I hope to give my assistance in improving access to education for those in the favela in the future.”

For Bradley Wuest, a third-year law student who made the trip as well, he was unsure about going. 

“(In Vitoria), I found the openness of the people to be oddly comforting when I was expecting it to be off-putting,” Wuest told The West Virginia Record. “(It was) liberating. I can take what I learned in my social interactions there back with me to help with my social anxiety.”

He said because of this trip, he’s changed how he views the world.

“I continue to think of the world population as one people,” he said, “but I do recognize the struggles that are unique to (each society). Before the trip, I thought of South America as one of the last places I would want to visit. (However,) Brazil is in every right a first-world country and my previous worldview was very ignorant.”

He said the government there is corrupt, but that “things here (in the U.S.) are also not as good as we make them out to be,” either.

“I have been planning to specialize as an adoptions attorney, and after this trip, I would like to be able to help with international adoptions, as well," he said. "This experience has made me more aware of my consumption of resources and I plan to cut back on indulgent consumptive practices.”

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