Civilization Dialogues Offer ‘Life-Changing Experiences’

OAKLAND, Calif.—Trinity Thomas’ father was born and raised in Brazil. So she grew up speaking English and Portuguese back home in the Bay Area.

The toys were brinquedos, the books were livros, and her grandmother was avó.

During the summers, Thomas vacationed in Rio de Janeiro, his father’s hometown, with aunts, uncles, and cousins. But as childhood turned into adolescence and then early adulthood, those trips became less frequent and she lost her fluidity.

“My father and my grandmother still spoke Portuguese to me, but I answered in English”, explains Thomas.

She is grateful to the Dialogues of Civilization program at Northeastern University for helping her regain her fluency.

In May, Thomas was among the first Mills College undergraduates to participate in the 30-day International Learning Experiences – Global Classrooms – where students from the North East travel abroad to focus on the critical issues facing society in a specific subject or course topic.

Mills and Northeastern merged in July to create Mills College at Northeastern University, but even before that Thomas was quick to take advantage of the additional educational opportunities.

Trinity Thomas framed in yellow leaves
Mills College to Northeastern University student Trinity Thomas. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

Thomas’ Dialogues of Civilizations program focused on communications. The trip to Brazil was his first in nearly eight years and his first without his father.

“It was like going back to basics, but it also allowed me to build my own relationship with Brazil in an organized and structured way,” explains Thomas, a third-year history student.

In Brazil, Northeastern students split their time between the coastal cities of Rio and Salvador, but Thomas’ favorite part of the dialogue was a four-day trip inland.

“It was really fantastic to be able to see the less urban part of Brazil, the natural beauty and the scenery,” says Thomas. “Because, personally, I’ve only been to town.”

Students visited museums, studied architecture, and immersed themselves in neighborhoods and local culture. When his dialogue ended, Thomas stayed behind to spend time with his extended family.

“When I got home and saw my dad, I was able to have a conversation with him in Portuguese,” Thomas said. “It was quite emotional.”

Back on the Mills College campus, Thomas also publicized Civilization Dialogues to as many people as possible.

“Pretty much everyone I talk to,” she says. “It was just an incredibly valuable experience.”

Susan Pray Framed by Yellow Leaves
Mills College to Northeastern University student Susan Pray. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

Like Thomas, Northeastern Mills College student Susan Prier also participated in a Dialogue of Civilizations program to improve her language skills. She plans to do higher education in France.

She says navigating Paris with other students from the North East has been a life-changing experience.

“It was amazing to see history up close,” says Prier, who last studied French about 10 years ago.

“It gave me the push in the arm, the boost I needed,” she says. “I understand better now and speak much faster.”

While in France, Prier studied social issues such as gay rights and interracial marriage, and how French culture brings people together through film and comedy.

His dialogue team visited medieval castles and churches, the childhood home of the Lumière brothers – Auguste and Louis – two of Europe’s first filmmakers, and the Museum of Cinema and Miniatures, known for its collection of movie props and special effects.

The team also spent time in Switzerland, visiting the United Nations office in Geneva and the Manoir de Ban, Charlie Chaplin’s former home in Corsier-sur-Vevey.

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