Landing on a different continent, speaking a new language, roaming through a foreign city: It was a lot for 35 Ball State journalism students to absorb. When the young reporters landed in Brazil as part of Ball State at the Games, none of them had any idea what they were in for, let alone how they were going to write stories in a foreign country.
“The environment hit us when we got here that we were not going to understand the area we were in after a few hours or even a few days,” junior Ball State student Mallory Weil said. “We’re so used to being in an a particular type of place when we’re talking to people and writing stories. (In Rio), we can barely even talk to the people we meet, let alone try and put together stories without the help of someone who speaks Portuguese.”
Upon arrival, however, Ball State students were greeted by journalism students from Mackenzie Presbyterian University. The Brazilian students from São Paulo, fluent in both English and Portuguese, were selected to help American students translate interviews, produce stories and gain more firsthand experience in the reporting field.
“I thought when we first got here that it was really awkward that we were sleeping next to people we didn’t even know,” Weil said. “But when we went out and started doing stories, we became really good friends with the students from Mackenzie. And when you’re friends with someone, working with them is a lot easier.”
Caio Vendramini, one of nearly a dozen Mackenzie University students joining the coverage of the Olympic Games, got involved with the reporting trip after he was offered an interview with Campus Brasil. The Brazilian organization specializes in customized academic programs and worked to pair Mackenzie students with their foreign counterparts.
“(In the interview process) we had to answer a few questions about our goals as journalists and talk about what experiences we already had in the area,” Vendramini said. “They asked some questions about Rio too, and all of that was in English so they can see how good our English was.”
Selected Brazilian students had an all-expenses-paid trip to join the students from the United States, but according to Mackenzie student Stephanie Ramos, it hasn’t been anything like a vacation.
“We keep very, very busy with the Ball State students,” Ramos said. “But it’s actually so nice because they are very motivated and want to do so many things and talk to all of these people, so it was nice to go with them and experience the reporting adventures too.”
Ramos and Vendramini said they were hesitant to apply for the program, thinking they wouldn’t have strong enough English skills. But once they starting going out on assignments with students from Ball State, Vendramini said the one-on-one time helped him realize the areas where he can improve.
“The trip was way nicer than I thought it would be, and I actually learned a lot,” Vendramini said. “I got surprised with all the work the Ball State students had to do and even more surprised about what they can do. It made me want to push myself even more as a journalist myself.
“I learned a lot about photography and how to improve my skills, and I got to do tons of interviews with the Ball State students — that gave me so much experience,” Vendramini said.
After working closely with Vendramini, Ball State senior Laura Arwood said the new friendship was founded on unexpected similarities between the two students. While reporting on LGBT life in Rio, Arwood said her Brazilian counterpart had “so many interesting things to say” about the topic, and the compatibility grew from there.
“(Vendramini) volunteered to go with me to Pride House Rio, which is no small feat because the house is in a sketchy part of town, but the journey there was really an adventure for us,” Arwood said. “It was incredible because as we went out there, we talked about everything: being members of the LGBT community, views of homelessness, freedom of expression, religion — our views are very similar, and it feels like I made friend.”
Vendramini went to every interview Arwood had while putting together her story, and afterword, he would spend over an hour translating and transcribing the interviews from the day. Even though the two students go to journalism school in different parts of the world, Arwood said the conversations she and Vendramini were able to have while working together helped them both develop a bond, even outside of their working hours.
“It was interesting because we talked about our experiences at school, and (Vendramini) told me about how different the curriculum is at his school,” Arwood said. “But we both cover similar topics where we’re from, and we both got along in that way. I think it really helped me find ways to connect with not just another journalist, but also another person, from a totally different country and culture than where I’m from. I’m so grateful for that part of this experience.”
After working with the Brazilian journalists for two weeks, Weil also said she was also grateful for the collaborative project — not only for the journalistic knowledge gained but also for the shared experiences Ball State students were able to have with college students from across the globe.
“I think in return, we kind of taught (the Mackenzie students) the ins and outs of news and what it’s like to report,” Weil said. “They’re going to school to be journalists, just like us, but we gave each other new perspectives about what it’s like to be reporters.”
Ramos agreed and said that also being able to live with the Ball State students turned the trip into “one of the best weeks of her life.”
“My goal in life is never stop learning, so I was really glad with the knowledge exchange between me and the BSU students,” Ramos said. “I got to meet so many incredible people and also hear so many stories that changed the way I look at my life and my country. I don’t think I’ll ever experience something like this again, and it was certainly a once in a life time opportunity.”
Casey Smith is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.