Carving Out His Path from Brazil to Broadway

For Brazilian student Rafael Bahls, being involved in the Kent State University American Academy in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil, has expanded his worldview in a multitude of ways.

“I've been studying musical theater here in Curitiba for almost a year now,” said Bahls. “I've been very involved in and enrolled in art, musical theater and dance classes and just watching plays and watching ballet."

An aspiring playwright, Bahls came to the American Academy from Ponta Grossa, a town slightly larger than Cleveland and located northwest of Curitiba, which boasts a population of roughly 3.8 million and is the seventh-largest city in Brazil.

Taking classes in the big city has provided a great place to develop his craft and engage with the arts community.

"This was a little hard for me [to do] in my hometown since it's very small compared to Curitiba," Bahls said. "Being here is a great place for me to really develop that. These opportunities have given me a great place to create a network and create connections all around Curitiba, and to understand more about art."

Brazilian student Rafael Bahls talks about the rewarding experience of "finding his crew" while studying at the American Academy in Curitiba, Brazil.

Known as an important cultural and economic center for Latin America, the Fundação Cultural de Curitiba (the Cultural Foundation of Curitiba) was established in the 1970s, with the aim of promoting culture in the city. In addition to numerous city landmarks dedicated to the arts, Curitiba hosts several annual arts-based festivals, such as the Curitiba Theatre Festival and the Music Workshop of Curitiba.

The PUCPR Campus in Curitiba Brazil

The PUCPR campus stands in the foreground, set against the evening skyline of Curitiba.

Through the American Academy, Kent State jointly offers a dual-enrollment program with Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná (PUCPR), which has its main campus in Curitiba. The dual-enrollment program offers more than 200 undergraduate degree programs from Kent State and more than 60 undergraduate degree programs from PUCPR. Students enrolled in the American Academy complete their first two years of undergraduate study on the PUCPR campus in Brazil and have the option to complete a bachelor’s degree at the Kent State campus in the U.S. or continue at PUCPR.

At any given time, there are roughly 150 students enrolled in the American Academy, at various stages of the program in Kent and abroad. According to Valerie Feagin, interim American Academy coordinator and Kent State’s associate director, international partnerships, about 50% to 60% of American Academy students in Brazil opt to complete their bachelor’s degree on the Kent State Campus. This past academic year, 12 students earned their bachelor’s degrees at Kent State and graduated in the Spring Commencement ceremony.

One of the unique assets of the program is the ability for students to explore different classes and subject areas, without having to declare a major the first two years. Feagin noted that the kind of educational exploration the American Academy offers is uncommon in Brazil. It not only gives young students a little more time to decide on a career path but also provides a clear entry point to the U.S. for those who are interested but not quite ready to make the leap.

“We allow students the flexibility to explore,” Feagin said. “They don’t have to pick a major or program right away. Some students do come in knowing [their path] but most of our students join us because they are unsure of what they want to major in, they know that they want to start college and just really need to figure it out, or they are looking for a specific path to the United States that lets them stay closer to home a little longer.”

Exploring the World and the Arts

Bahls, who describes himself as a “huge fan of musical theatre,” plans to be a playwright and dreams of writing and directing on Broadway. However, he says he is enjoying studying all aspects of the arts through his involvement in the American Academy.

American Academy Students Rafael Bahls and Laura Agudelo take a selfie in their Kent State bucket hats between classes in Curitiba, Brazil.

Kent State American Academy students Laura Agudelo and Rafael Bahls take a selfie in their Kent State bucket hats between classes in Curitiba, Brazil. 

The ability to explore different areas of interest is not something higher education students in Brazil typically get the opportunity to do. Brazilian universities only admit students with a commitment to a specific major, with no options to change programs once admitted. The flexibility the American Academy provides is something Bahls said he appreciated greatly. He plans to complete his bachelor’s degree on the Kent State campus.

“Before coming to the American Academy, I was a student in the bachelor's degree program for journalism in my hometown, but I always wanted to travel abroad and pursue a career abroad,” Bahls said. “That university didn't give me that [option], so I searched for more and I found the American Academy.

"The key point for me was the liberal arts education, where I could explore all fields I wanted to, to then discover what's the thing that I really want to do?”

Regardless of the area of focus for American Academy students – whether its arts or sciences – everyone will receive a strong foundation that will prepare them for future employment, Feagin said.

“I think the argument is kind of the same as you see in the U.S. for doing any college degree, in that you have a broad basis in liberal arts, which gives you critical thinking skills and helps give you a broad foundation for whatever career you end up choosing,” said Feagin. “Even those students who are convinced they are going to end up in computer science, for example, are still going to have strong writing skills because they are doing our college composition and research writing classes. They are going to have the critical thinking skills [because] they are going to be taking ethics or philosophy courses. We’re not just doing professional prep, which is really limited. We are giving people a broader education in the more classical sense.”

Find more information about the American Academy. 

Learn more about Kent State’s Office of Global Education.

Top Image Caption: Bahls (third from left) said the connections he has made with professors and friends at the American Academy keeps him motivated.


POSTED: Friday, June 16, 2023 09:17 AM
Updated: Friday, July 28, 2023 01:38 PM
Amy Antenora