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Brazilian Student Finds Place at UK and Amplifies Voices of Others

By Jennifer T. Allen

Deb PenaDeb Pena always thought she would study abroad for college. She specifically wanted to have a rich student life during her college studies. That’s how she landed at the University of Kentucky, 4,789 miles away from her hometown of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Currently a sophomore majoring in psychology with a minor in philosophy and a certificate in business, Pena found the community she was looking for and so much more.

“When I visited UK, the reception was incredible,” Pena said. “I knew that if anything happened while I was away from home, I would have a strong support network that I could rely on. I also wanted a place where I could easily get involved, a place where there's always something going on around campus. I wanted a place that I could have the opportunity to stand out and speak up.”

And Pena has definitely found her voice at UK. As a freshman, Pena not only became involved in the Brazilian Student Association, but she also served as vice president and then president. She participated in the Student Government Association’s Leadership Development Program and is currently serving as secretary of the Philosophy Club and an International Student Ambassador for UK.

“I have strong connections to many people across campus. Everyone is really nice and most of my friends are international. I feel like international students are super easy to bond with because everyone's kind of on the same page,” Pena said. “UK is not the type of university that you just have international friends and you cannot get in touch with other Americans because Americans here are open to connecting with international students. I've never felt prejudice or anything coming from UK students and staff, and I feel like everyone's just uplifting inside to be here and it's a nice vibe.”

Brazilian Student Organization students In the future, Pena plans to work in therapy and is extremely interested in a specific technique that hails from her hometown – analytical phenomenological existential psychotherapy.

“With therapy, I feel like you're pretty much teaching someone how to be happy, and that's something that I get super excited about,” she said. “I've always known that I would work with people and work with education in a way that will help people.” 

The specific technique is a meta-theory pulling together several already existing theories of philosophy, theology, psychology and sciences in general, Pena said.

“Unfortunately, psychology in Brazil is not as focused on research as it is here, so there is no research showing that this theory works,” Pena said. “I wonder if I could help introduce people more widely to this theory and share research, maybe it will be seen as something worth looking at. I was initially not drawn to research, but thinking about how I can make a difference has gotten me interested in knowing more about it.”

Continuing to amplify her voice and the voices of others on campus, Pena is organizing a TEDx talk on campus next spring. The theme, “Trailblazing,” will allow participants to get inspired by the ideas within the UK campus community. According to her, “UK is a big university, and there are many hidden ideas around it that people simply don’t know about.” She wants to bring, through TEDxUKY, a space where those ideas are shared.

While she loves the changing seasons of Kentucky and hanging out at 3rd Street Stuff or Chaotic Good for coffee and board gaming with friends, Pena does miss Brazilian food, especially açaí.

“My roommates are Brazilian, so we cook our favorites from home now,” she said. “The quality of life here is something that I really, really like the connections. Living with friends is a really interesting experience.”

Pena’s love of traveling is something she plans to continue exploring while a student at UK and after.

“I first added philosophy as a minor because I think it really goes together with psychology and I think it's interesting and I love traveling,” she said. “I'm planning to travel one day to places where I want to understand the culture. For me, if you ever go to Greece, I feel you must know about Greek Mythology.”