Gustavo de A. Silva, an Explo alum from São Paulo, Brazil, will be attending Dartmouth College this fall. "Thanks to Explo," Gustavo says, "my life and my prospects have changed immensely."
Recently, Gustavo sent us his college application essay. He wrote his essay in response to the prompt: "Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story."
We're thrilled for Gustavo, and we're delighted to share his essay here with you.
"I am from São Paulo, Brazil, and, two years ago, with the support of my teacher, Anelisa Macedo, I was awarded a full scholarship to attend Explo at Yale," Gustavo says. "This opportunity has impacted me so much that I've decided to include an essay about this impact in my college application, and I would like to share it with you."
Some months ago, I passed by two students in my school’s bathroom. As I walked in, I overheard one of them say mockingly as they left: “Did you see that fag?” Fag…That word sounded violent, heavy, humiliating. I was indignant. I had to choose whether to ignore this feeling or acknowledge that this discrimination was unacceptable, that everyone has the right to be respected for who they are, and take a stand. My reaction to this predicament was largely dictated by the personal growth I had experienced in my time in the Explo summer program.
By the time I received a scholarship to Colégio Bandeirantes, one of the most prominent educational institutions in São Paulo, I was well acquainted with the fear of being discriminated against. My mother came to São Paulo from a poor area in Northeastern Brazil to work as a housekeeper when she was 14. She has always told me how difficult it was growing up while being judged for her regional origin and socioeconomic status. Everyone at Bandeirantes knew I came from a public school in a low income area, and the fear that I might suffer from prejudice like my mother held me back. I did not ask questions during class, fully dedicate myself to extracurricular activities, or meet new people. I stuck to the stereotype of a high school scholarship awardee: I performed well while mostly keeping to myself.
Receiving a scholarship to Explo changed everything. I had never been on a plane before, talked to a foreign person, or considered the possibility of going abroad so young. I could never have allowed myself to dream of such an opportunity and I was determined to make the most of it. Would I let my timidity and fear of being judged prevent me from enjoying something I had worked so hard to achieve? Of course not! I sought opportunities to explore my interests in philosophy and sociology and discover new ones not only in political science but also gender and sexuality studies. I participated in debates, made new friends, and could finally present myself the way I wanted to because nobody carried preconceptions about who I was. Stepping beyond the bounds of my comfort zone enabled me to gain a new level of comfort and self-acceptance, and consequently participate not as the public school kid, but like any other student. I knew I would not be happy at home if I continued to live in fear.
When I encountered the two students in the bathroom I had a choice to make. I could try to have them punished or strike at the root of the problem and try to confront the homophobic attitude that was commonplace in my school. I united a group of friends and, after a lot of negotiation with my school’s administration, we created a student organization in support of LGBTQ issues. It took not only a great deal of determination to found Bandiversidade (a play on words with the school name and the word ‘diversity’), but also a level of confidence I did not have before I studied in the United States.
Seeing how much I grew abroad, I realized how much I had missed by attempting to shield myself from the world in order not to get hurt. I came out to my family and friends in Brazil, and I became more comfortable opening up to new people, sharing my background, and expressing my views. Before going to the U.S., I was not only missing out on the freedom of being out, I was lacking the fulfillment of actively participating in class, starting clubs at my school, and becoming politically involved in my community. I lacked the confidence to be who I wanted to be. Today I can say that if I have to choose between an oppressive safety and a risky freedom, I prefer the latter.
After returning from the US, I also sought programs that could support me financially to apply to colleges in the US and last December I received the news that I was admitted early decision to Dartmouth College class of 2020. Dartmouth offered me need-based financial aid and also a place in a scholarship program for foreign students who dream of tackling poverty in their home countries. I would never have had the strength and confidence to achieve that had it not been for the accepting and challenging environment Explo provided. And I thank you so SO much for allowing me to experience that, for changing my life for the better and for good.
Gustavo came to Explo as part of ISMART, a Brazil-based program which identifies low-income, high-potential students. Explo and ISMART have worked in partnership to bring young Brazilian scholars to Explo since 2013.
"I hope Explo never stops inspiring low-income kids around the world like it did to me and look forward to participating again as a staff member," Gustavo says. "That would be really cool."