FLAS spotlight: Marleny De Leon

Marleny DeLeon

Latin American studies master's student Marleny De Leon received a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship from the Center for Latin American Studies to study Portuguese in Brazil over the summer. While in South America, she also collaborated with several indigenous scholars and conducted research at the Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina’s (UNISUL) Center for Sustainable Development. Read more about her experience below.

The FLAS summer fellowship presented me with the opportunity to live in Brazil for two months while learning Portuguese at the Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina (UNISUL) and absorbing the culture of Florianopolis. Furthermore, the FLAS fellowship during the academic year allowed me to exponentially improve my language fluency under the guidance of preeminent Stanford professors.

While at UNISUL, I began collaborative research with the director of the Center for Sustainable Development and as a result, three academic papers are currently being reviewed for publication. In addition, towards the end of my trip, I was invited to attend a conference on international development and commerce at the Federation of Industries of the State of Santa Catarina (FIESC).

The experience of living in Brazil and learning Portuguese from experts in the field has granted me a new lens with which to see the world and new tools to more effectively interact with others. One of my memorable moments in Brazil was being interviewed by the country’s second leading television channel, RecordTV. I was one of two selected for this opportunity and still remember the nerves I felt during my “fifteen seconds of fame” as I relayed my enchantment with Brazilian culture. 

While living in Santa Catarina, I was unsettled by the dearth of indigenous faces and as a result, I set out to connect with indigenous scholars in the area. I was able to make a connection with Dr. Eduardo Luna, an indigenous scholar from the Colombian Amazon region, now residing in Florianopolis. Dr. Luna’s expertise is in traditional medicinal uses of native plants, and through his support, I was able to glean a better understanding of the similarities between indigenous groups not just in the Amazon, but in the Americas in general.

Additionally, I leveraged my advancement in Portuguese to connect with Edgar Corrêa Kanaykõ, a young indigenous activist and scholar who resides in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. As an ethnographer, photographer, activist, and member of the Xakriabá community in Mina Gerais, Edgar intentionally utilizes academia and modern technology as a tool for the promotion and reinforcement of indigenous tradition. I am currently investigating the possibility of collaborating with Edgar and other indigenous scholars in future multidisciplinary entrepreneurship projects for social and racial equity in Latin America.