Heights High senior visits Brazil in summer exchange
Heights High senior Zoe Cook in the Pelourinho, the center of the historic area of Salvador, Brazil.
Cleveland Heights High School senior Zoe Cook was one of 13 students nationally, and one of three from Ohio, who was chosen for a three-week student exchange in Brazil.
The Young Ambassadors program, which is supported by the Cleveland Council of World Affairs and the U.S. State Department, promotes understanding between the people of the United States and Brazil, prepares teens to be leaders, fosters relationships between ethnic and religious groups, and creates networks of young leaders.
The trip began with two days of orientation with the U.S. embassy staff in Washington, DC, followed by three days in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. The students met several of the Brazilian diplomatic staff and that, said Cook, "is where we were really introduced to the Brazilian culture.” Brazilian Young Ambassadors helped guide the American students.
The majority of the trip was spent with host families. Cook's family lives on the Atlantic coast in Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest city. “My host family was so kind and welcoming,” she said. Her host sister spoke English, but the rest of the family did not. “I learned a little Portuguese, but only a little,” Cook added.
Part of the experience was to learn the work of several nonprofit organizations in Brazil. The students toured several favelas–neighborhoods with concentrated poverty. The students learned about programs focused on improving education and decreasing drug use and violence.
“This was really a life changing experience for me,” said Cook. “I learned so much about the people and culture of Brazil. We really broke down our stereotypes about each other.”
Cook is a member of the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN) and learned abut the trip at a meeting.
“Zoe is a quiet leader who is very interested in community service,” said David Peake, MSAN advisor. “We are really proud that she was chosen for this experience.”
Cook, who plans to be involved with the Young Ambassadors program when the Brazilian teens come to Cleveland this winter, plays field hockey, is on the swim team, student council and National Honor Society, and is a peer tutor. She will apply to The Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati.
Joy Henderson is the parent/community liaison at Heights High.