Olá Pessoal! Hi y’all! My name is Brandon Penrod (my Brazilian name is Bernardo), and I am a 2021-2022 Gilman Alumni Ambassador. In 2019, I studied abroad on the dynamic island of Florianópolis, off the coast of southern Brazil. In my previous blog, I wrote about the ‘Brazilian Buddy’ system that my study abroad program, USAC, implemented to connect us with local Brazilian students. Today, I want to share with you a friendship I made with another Brazilian student who wasn’t actually a part of the Brazilian Buddy program. Her name is Kathleen, and she has become one of my closest friends in life.
Kathleen is a dental student at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, or UFSC. Oddly enough, most of my Brazilian friends are also dental students. She is Brazilian-American and trilingual in English, Portuguese, and Spanish. I could include a list of reasons why she is a phenomenal friend, but what I will always appreciate her most for is that she took me under her wing and guided me through Brazilian culture, and continues to do so today. She pushes me out of my comfort zone and encourages me to keep striving for my dreams. When it comes to language and culture, we serve as each other’s main sources of information.
Kathleen and I met during my very first visit to a gigantic on-campus social gathering, dubbed an UFSC party, one evening. Did you know that at many Brazilian universities, students hold parties, events, and social gatherings on campus, even at night, and it is an accepted part of the university and student culture? I was invited by my Brazilian buddy, Kauê, who brought along Kathleen and some other friends. I didn’t realize after that evening that we would become so close, but we did. It was actually after I had already ended my program that we began to grow closer.
Over the past 2 ½ years, we have visited each other’s families in Florida and Brazil, celebrated Carnaval in Florianópolis, traveled to New York, D.C., and Miami with our little sisters, and spent a life-changing weekend in Puerto Rico together. I have also visited Kathleen (and her two cats, Rosalia and Coraline) in Brazil several times. As of April 2022, Kathleen is actually in New York City completing a dental externship at Cornell, and I am planning on visiting her while she’s there. Unexpectedly, we’ve become travel buddies, and I am so grateful that we travel well together. If you’ve ever traveled with friends, then you know things don’t always go to plan–sometimes it’s part of the adventure!
My favorite memories with Kathleen have always been where we found ourselves in paradoxical situations. Our trip to Puerto Rico embodies that best. Of course, our trip did not go to plan. On our way to San Juan, we were stressed and were running behind on time. Because we were the last to check in for the flight, we were given the last two remaining seats, which happened to be in Business class. When we arrived in San Juan, we realized we had booked the hotel for the wrong dates, and after hours of trying to plan where to go, our friend Fabian (another USAC student we met in Brazil!), offered to pick us up and take us to his home. While visiting San Felipe del Morro Castle in San Juan, we walked into a suffocating swarm of gnats and I destroyed my Apple Watch, all within the span of 10 minutes. However, it was one of the greatest sights we’ve ever visited. One day, we went all around the city just looking for a cup of coffee, and couldn’t find any. We never did find coffee that day, but we did get to walk all around Old San Juan and the gorgeous waterfront. Despite the misfortunes, and with the help of Fabian and a positive attitude, we made the most of our trip. It goes to show that no matter what, you will always have a good time when you’re with a good friend.
I wish for our friendship to be an example of how, sometimes, we find friends in unexpected places. We live in a digital world now, where friendships can be maintained despite physical distance. Our greatest friendships may or may not be with the people we’re able to see every day, and that’s okay. Kathleen and I don’t get to see each other often, but here we are today. Our friendship wouldn’t have been possible without the Gilman Scholarship, and for that, I am forever thankful.
Here’s to friendship, wherever we find it in the world!