Camilo Vasconcelos, a freshman from Fortaleza, Brazil, had his first contact with Harvard while he was still in high school.
In 2017, Vasconcelos was accepted as a mentee in the Mentoring and Language Acquisition in Brazil (MLAB) program — organized by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) — and was matched with a Harvard College student who provided him with four months of one-to-one virtual mentoring. In a recent interview, Vasconcelos wrote: “I was expecting from MLAB much less than what I actually got: inspiration, friendship, networking, motivation, and cultural awareness.”
The most anticipated component of MLAB, however, are not the virtual sessions. MLAB also provides its mentors and mentees with the opportunity of engaging face to face over a two-week immersion in São Paulo, Brazil during winter break.
“Throughout the mentorship sessions and immersion, my mentor and the other mentors and mentees helped me to be a better version of myself,” Vasconcelos said. “I felt motivated to always do my best and look into opportunities that once seemed unreachable.”
Before MLAB, studying at Harvard seemed like one of those unreachable goals to Vasconcelos, but with the help of his mentor, Tessa Wood ’21, and support from Education U.S.A., he was accepted early action.
MLAB continues to be a big part of Vasconcelo’s Harvard experience. Within his first few weeks on campus, Vasconcelos was accepted as an MLAB mentor. Going from mentee to mentor, he has gained a fuller understanding of the program and reflected on his changing role within it.
“Being a mentor is definitely different. You have to be more assertive, surer of what you are doing, and more resourceful than ever in order to use your network to help your mentee,” he said. “Knowing you can impact someone else’s life and being able to transmit your knowledge to them is priceless and this is what makes the experience worth it.”
Jannely Villareal ’20 said she was excited to join MLAB due to prior experiences as both a mentor and mentee. “I am immensely grateful for the mentors who have substantially facilitated and enriched my life,” Villareal wrote. “From the perspective of a mentor, I genuinely appreciate how mentorship can change lives and encourage personal growth. It is unfortunate when bright, motivated youth push their dreams aside because their circumstances make those dreams seem difficult to obtain. In those moments of uncertainty and disillusionment, the positive energy and unconditional support from a mentor can make a world of difference.”
Vasconcelos and Villareal are two of 11 Harvard College students who spent two weeks in São Paulo, Brazil, this winter break mentoring high need, high potential Brazilian high school students through MLAB.