Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Voice of Youth Series -- Danielle Santiago, The Geologist

Danielle Santiago.
Photo taken by Risalat Khan at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah 

Danielle Santiago went to Military School of Recife, joined the U.S. Embassy’s Youth Ambassadors Program and is currently in her junior year at Amherst College, Massachusetts, where she is majoring in geology and mathematics. Feel free to contact her at

#1) How would you describe your personality? Were you always this way? Have you changed? (Why? Why not?)
I am extremely perfectionist and very emotional. I try to pretend I am strong and that people don’t have the power to hurt me, but that is all fake. I’ve always been like that, but now I am more aware of it. I am also very friendly but really like some time by myself.
Living in America has changed me in so many ways. I became more independent, open minded and learned to respect people’s life choices much more than I used to. But it’s not all good. I feel like I’ve became less idealistic. I usually say that my college is a bubble. We live here without knowing much of what is going on in the “outside world,” so I haven’t been exposed to poverty, violence or injustice as much as I used to back home. It just gives us the illusory feeling that everything is alright and we can live our lives without caring too much about those who struggle. I have to constantly fight against that prospect.

#2) What was the most significant moment you've lived? Do you think it contributed to shaping who you are today?
I don’t think I’ve been shaped by any one significant moment. It was a series of struggles I’ve been through with my mother and my brother that have contributed tremendously to shaping my personality. There is not even one moment when I feel sorry for that, though. I think everything happens for a reason.

#3) How would you describe your life as an international student? Was it difficult to move to a different country?
It was difficult to leave home and it has been difficult to live away from home too. I usually say I am a true international student/person. I don’t fit in very well. I still don’t understand some aspects of the “American way of life,” but it doesn’t prevent me from being happy nor is it an obstacle to my success in here. On the bright side, I still encounter people who get excited when I say I am from Brazil and that always makes my day!

#4) How would you describe the community you come from and the one where you now live? What are the differences and similarities between them?
The idea of a community makes much more sense to me in here than it does back home. Jaboatao dos Guararapes is a huge municipality. You know some of your neighbors and that is about it. The living pace is much more frenetic, there is a lot more to worry about. Amherst is a very small and safe town. College and public places blend in nicely. It feels cozy, I like it a lot. The commoners get together and celebrate holidays, festivities, Independence Day, they care about the public property too, so you don’t see trash everywhere, graffiti on the buses, and all that. Although I love my hometown, it is much nicer to live in a smaller city. The thing I miss the most, though, is seeing people’s smiley faces everywhere you go back home.

#5) Do you feel there are things both communities could teach each other? Do you feel you are a mediator of this knowledge?
Most definitely. I strongly believe we have a lot to learn from the American experience, the same way we could help them with some ideas to liven things up too The thing that impress me the most about the place I currently live in, though, is people’s politeness and respect towards one another and the public space. It is an old dream of mine that my people would learn to act the same way, but it can only be conquered with a better education and honest politicians.

#6) Have you had a chance to attend college in Brazil? If so, have you noticed any differences / similarities between the Brazilian and the American “college” way of life?
Yes, I have and they constitute totally different realities. The public universities in Brazil are definitely not even close to be as organized as the American ones. Here, professors will not miss a class; they also don’t act like they have all the power in their hands and thus can do whatever they want. Furthermore, the infrastructure is better and there is a lot more money being invested in the students’ education. However, it feels like we are competing for our lives most of the time. Being in a small, elitist school can drive you crazy. It is definitely not as healthy of an environment as the one I used to live in back in the University of Pernambuco. It was easier to make friends, competition was not so obvious and there was much more collaboration amongst peers.

#7) Why have you picked the career path you now envision? Was it always your dream to do so? What made you more secure about your career plans?
Coming to Amherst has changed my professional career too. I’ve never thought I would want to be a geologist in my life. I always thought I would be a History teacher. I took my first Geology class here and fell in love. I then realized I was back into sciences and, honestly, it felt good Now I want to pursue a career in Geology (not sure which branch of it yet) and am very, very glad I had the chance to get to know the field. Now I feel much more secured about my career plans because there are more opportunities in the area and because I just fell in love with it!

#8) How do you plan to contribute to improving society? In fact, what are the aspects that – in your opinion – need improvement?
That question bugs me every day of my life since I came here. I don’t want to become the selfish person one can turn into by being in such small, secluded and perfectly set place. Although I want to go into the sciences, I want to figure out a way of keeping myself involved with issues like education and environment protection. There is just SO much my country can improve by investing in educating its people. And, in times of such economic progress, people should also keep an eye on the environment. Hopefully, I will have the chance to contribute in both fields.

#9) How would you describe the participation of youth in today's society?
Youth is so powerful. As clich√© as it may sound, I do believe we are “the future.” I get very excited when I see friends and young people all over the world fighting for all sorts of things, getting more interested in politics, protesting against corruption, helping those who struggle. We need to get even more educated, eliminate our own prejudices and work on becoming the honest people our country (and the world) needs in order to change. A society is the reflection of its people and their actions. As happy, cheerful and welcoming as we are, there is just no chance of real progress and change if the same vicious people keep in charge of the important decisions in our country. Overall, I guess we are on the right track, but I would like to see more action than plain idealism.

#10) Do you feel the Brazilian youth could teach something to the rest of the world? If you had a chance, then, to speak for them, what message would you leave to the world?
Yes! Somehow I feel that we grow up a lot faster. And we do so for safety reasons. We have to protect ourselves against the odds of living in a society hunted by such high social inequality. There is no certain future if we don’t work hard to reach it. As the strong people that we are, I do believe we have a lot to teach. So, if I had the chance, I would tell the world how hard we are trying to improve as individuals with a common goal: living in a more fair society. I would say how much we struggle to show that Brazil is not only the “Country of Soccer,” but a place where people are lively, caring, and eager to improve. I believe that, that being true, we would become the best place in the world. And only then could we be an inspiration for all of the other nations on Earth.

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