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Exchange program channels passion for protecting marine life

February 06, 2018

Rafaela “Rafa” Paulo Teixeira, a native of Portugal, has been passionate about environmental issues since childhood. As an undergraduate studying marine biology, she participated in an international exchange program sponsored by FHI 360 that helped channel that passion into a website and app to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries.

Rafaela “Rafa” Paulo Teixeira presenting information FHI 360’s Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Student Leaders from Europe Program provides European undergraduate students with the opportunity to explore U.S. society, culture and institutions through a five-week academic exchange. Every year, more than 60 students participate in the program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. These students, who are selected for their outstanding commitment to youth leadership, make valuable global contacts and strengthen their knowledge of civic engagement, environmental issues or social entrepreneurship.

Rafa’s exchange group traveled from Portugal to the University of Oregon to learn the history of environmental issues in the United States and how citizen participation has shaped U.S. economic, social and political history. The program provided a rigorous academic curriculum that included lively classroom discussions with American students. Through leadership workshops, students developed a variety of skills, from team building to good listening and engaging local stakeholders. And, students met with community leaders to learn about legislative strategies for addressing the impact of humans on the environment, as well as how to develop innovative responses to environmental issues at the university, community and municipal levels.

Of particular importance, program staff guided students in creating capstone projects to complete once they returned to their home countries. The projects followed a five-phase action-planning model — called CAPES, for consider, analyze, plan, evaluate and sustain — to help students think critically about issues in their communities, identify creative solutions and develop their potential to lead the solution process.

At the end of the program, the participants traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in a Capstone Conference, where they shared their experiences and presented their projects. Rafa introduced Fish4Me, the website and app she created to educate consumers about sustainable fisheries and how to buy sustainable fish. She later made a video that discusses the issues in more depth.

For Rafa, the exchange program was life changing. “The SUSI program unlocked a door for me — it was the experience I needed to start to build a future as an advocate for sustainable fishing and aquaculture and to become a marine biologist,” she said.

Rafa has since completed her bachelor’s degree in marine biology and is working on a master’s degree in marine and coastal systems at the University of Algarve. She also lectures at high schools, universities and nongovernmental organizations to educate people about sustainable fishing. After obtaining her master’s degree, she hopes to lead scientific research and develop new European and global policies that protect marine and coastal areas.

Photo credit: FHI 360