My View

‘Involvement Made the Difference’

A Brazilian, shut out of med school, comes to the U.S., learns English, and then finds the key to an NYU scholarship: “Getting really, really active.”

Vitor Granja, a native of Brazil, earned scholarships at Westchester Community College that led to more scholarships as a transfer student to New York University studying.
National Journal
Vitor Granja
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Vitor Granja
Dec. 6, 2013, 5:33 a.m.

Vit­or Granja, son of a Brazili­an Eng­lish pro­fess­or, came with his twin broth­er Vini­cius to the U.S. when they were 18, not know­ing how to speak any Eng­lish. Now 24, Vit­or is a ju­ni­or trans­fer stu­dent at New York Uni­versity, a glob­al pub­lic-health/ap­plied psy­cho­logy ma­jor with his eye on a med­ic­al de­gree and maybe a mas­ter’s in pub­lic-health man­age­ment and policy. (Vini­cius is an eco­nom­ics ma­jor, also at NYU.)

At Westchester Com­munity Col­lege in Val­halla, N.Y., Granja com­pleted the Eng­lish as a Second Lan­guage pro­gram in his first two years, then last spring se­cured his as­so­ci­ate’s lib­er­al arts de­gree in math and sci­ence. The key to his NYU schol­ar­ship, he says, was be­com­ing act­ive on cam­pus and fig­ur­ing out how to suc­ceed in a high­er-edu­ca­tion sys­tem vastly dif­fer­ent from Brazil’s.

WCC is also headquar­ters for the Com­munity Col­lege Con­sor­ti­um for Im­mig­rant Edu­ca­tion. In Granja’s time there, he re­ceived many awards. He took a five-week forensic-re­search course at Bing­hamton Uni­versity, traveled to Switzer­land, and at­ten­ded a sum­mer pro­gram at Cam­bridge Uni­versity. All those ex­per­i­ences gal­van­ized his de­sire to pur­sue a ca­reer in medi­cine with a fo­cus on pub­lic health.

This in­ter­view has been ed­ited for length and clar­ity.

When I came to the U.S. [Pound Ridge, N.Y.], I just wanted to learn Eng­lish and live for two years with my moth­er, Ariadne, who I have not seen for 10 years. In Brazil, I was try­ing to get through the stand­ard en­trance ex­ams in medi­cine. It’s fierce to get in­to a pub­lic med­ic­al school there be­cause there are no com­munity col­leges. Most tests are like 40,000 stu­dents try­ing for 360 slots, plus there’s a man­dat­ory cur­riculum. I failed the ex­ams twice, so I came here.

When I came here, it was hard for me to un­der­stand how the edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem worked. One thing that al­lowed my broth­er and me to bet­ter un­der­stand it and achieve our awards and schol­ar­ships was the club en­vir­on­ment. In Brazil there are no clubs. There are al­most no stu­dent activ­it­ies or op­por­tun­it­ies to de­vel­op lead­er­ship and soft skills.

I re­mem­ber we got a let­ter in­vit­ing us to an in­ter­na­tion­al hon­ors so­ci­ety, Phi Theta Kappa, which we’d nev­er heard of. At first, we thought it was a scam, but we re­gistered for it and showed up. We came to the first meet­ing, and the next week we came in for elec­tions. I ran for pres­id­ent and my broth­er for vice pres­id­ent. It was my broth­er and me, and two oth­er people in the club.

If I hadn’t be­come in­volved, I wouldn’t have been able to take ad­vant­age of all my cam­pus re­sources, such as its hon­ors pro­gram. Plus, that’s when we really star­ted to make friends and get even more in­volved. It was easi­er to get to know people in activ­it­ies. I be­came a New York re­gion­al of­ficer for Phi Theta Kappa, as well as sec­ret­ary of my cam­pus Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­ation.

Ac­tu­ally, all that in­volve­ment made the dif­fer­ence — get­ting act­ive on cam­pus. Get­ting really, really act­ive. When it came to lead­er­ship skills or prov­ing that you ac­com­plished things for the com­munity, made a big diffThe Next Amer­ica wel­comes first-per­son per­spect­ives from act­iv­ists, thought lead­ers and people rep­res­ent­at­ive of a di­verse na­­ence in my aca­dem­ic suc­cess. In the com­munity col­lege, If you study hard and push your­self, you get pay­back. In Brazil, only a few ex­cep­tion­al cases get pay­backs.

People come to the U.S. not know­ing any­thing about this coun­try’s edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem and op­por­tun­it­ies. They don’t know about fin­an­cial aid be­cause in most South Amer­ica uni­versit­ies there is no fin­an­cial aid.

Our club had 10 act­ive stu­dents. The gender split was about even. There were three first-gen­er­a­tion stu­dents — three Amer­ic­ans — and the rest where im­mig­rants, like us from South Amer­ica, Africa, Middle East, and Asia.

Be­sides my col­lege ad­visers, pro­fess­ors, and a very few schol­ar­ship donors, it is not so easy to find people who re­cog­nize how much im­mig­rants can give back to the coun­try that has giv­en them so much op­por­tun­it­ies. When I came to the East Coast, I thought I’d see a lot of Amer­ic­ans in­stead of im­mig­rants. But at WCC most stu­dents were im­mig­rants. We thought we’d have more Amer­ic­an friends, but we had more im­mig­rant friends.

We worked in the sum­mer to pay for our first year of col­lege. My par­ents are care­takers of a prop­erty, so we worked on land­scap­ing, clean­ing win­dows, and babysit­ting. When we ap­plied for fin­an­cial aid, we found out we were eli­gible. We also star­ted to ap­ply for schol­ar­ships on my cam­pus, and got at least one every year.

At first, my biggest bar­ri­er was speak­ing in pub­lic. As the pres­id­ent of my chapter and re­gion­al of­ficer, I had to speak in pub­lic. It is already hard to speak in pub­lic in your first lan­guage, so just ima­gine speak­ing with your sec­ond­ary lan­guage. I had to mem­or­ize, re­hearse over and over, and some­times I just had to get up in front of a crowd and speak. I re­mem­ber when I was run­ning my first blood drive and I had to ap­proach people and con­vince them to donate blood. It was really un­com­fort­able in the be­gin­ning, but I star­ted lik­ing it, and it paid off in the end. Our cam­pus earned the Pace­set­ter Award, giv­en to the col­lege cam­pus that col­lec­ted the most blood pints in two days.

My broth­er and I cre­ated a great net­work at Westchester. We made ourselves known to people who work there — talk­ing to people in the oth­er de­part­ments, just be­ing friendly. That really helped us aca­dem­ic­ally. One ex­ample was Robin Graft, our cam­pus trans­fer coun­selor and ad­viser of our cam­pus Phi Theta Kappa. She not only guided and mo­tiv­ated me through it, but also looked at everything I need [for ad­van­cing to a four-year col­lege]. She’s very con­nec­ted to many uni­versit­ies in New York. She would bring in dir­ect­ors of trans­fer ad­mis­sions to talk to our cam­pus mem­bers of PTK.

Ba­sic­ally what I want to ac­com­plish is to work in pre­vent­ive medi­cine in or out­side the United States. I’m ba­sic­ally open to go­ing any­where to im­prove health care sys­tems. I might work with gov­ern­ments or private com­pan­ies. I think jobs are be­com­ing glob­ally com­pet­it­ive, so pro­fes­sion­als are start­ing to look for a job far from their ho­met­owns or even home coun­tries.



Are you part of the demo­graph­ic that is the Next Amer­ica? Are you a cata­lyst who fosters change for the next gen­er­a­tion? Or do you know someone who is? The Next Amer­ica wel­comes first-per­son per­spect­ives from act­iv­ists, thought lead­ers and people rep­res­ent­at­ive of a di­verse na­tion. Email us. And please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

Jody Brannon contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
NRA Chief: Leftist Protesters Are Paid
1 days ago
Trump Still on Campaign Rhetoric
1 days ago
Trump Rails On Obamacare
1 days ago

After spending a few minutes re-litigating the Democratic primary, Donald Trump turned his focus to Obamacare. “I inherited a mess, believe me. We also inherited a failed healthcare law that threatens our medical system with absolute and total catastrophe” he said. “I’ve been watching and nobody says it, but Obamacare doesn’t work.” He finished, "so we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare."

Trump Goes After The Media
1 days ago

Donald Trump lobbed his first attack at the “dishonest media” about a minute into his speech, saying that the media would not appropriately cover the standing ovation that he received. “We are fighting the fake news,” he said, before doubling down on his previous claim that the press is “the enemy of the people." However, he made a distinction, saying that he doesn't think all media is the enemy, just the "fake news."

Report: Trump Asked FBI to Deny Russia Stories
1 days ago

"The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN. But a White House official said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.