An International Student's Extraordinary Experience
Born This Way
Lucas Santos (Brazil)
Alliance Abroad Group Cultural Exchange Participant
USA Work & Travel 2013
Great Wolf Lodge Resort – Wisconsin Dells
Born this Way Lucas Santos is a very inspirational young man and his cultural exchange experience is nothing short of extraordinary. He has never let his physical difference get in the way of his dreams, and he is constantly overcoming prejudice barriers. Inspired by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way movement, and empowered through cultural exchange, he did more than just prove himself capable. He has set an example for all who come across barriers in life, regardless of their background. His positive effect on the lives of those who are fortunate enough to come across him is evident. This is his story on overcoming prejudice, crossing over barriers, and enlightening everyone he came in contact with during his J-1 Work & Travel program in the United States.
Born without his left hand and most of his arm, Lucas, a Brazilian student, pursued his dream of visiting the United States to experience American culture firsthand. After being denied participation in an au pair program because he was considered “special needs”, Lucas’s persistence and determination paid off. Through an opportunity provided by Alliance Abroad Group, Lucas interviewed for a lifeguard position offered under the J-1 Work & Travel program. He landed a position with Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor waterpark located in the Wisconsin Dells, and left an impression on the Assistant Director of Aquatics from the very beginning.
“I remember interviewing Lucas when I was fortunate enough to go to Brazil with AAG to interview the students. I always like to start out with a non-work related question to lighten them up and make them laugh a bit. I asked him who his favorite American singer was and why. He told me Beyoncé, but mostly Lady Gaga. He then proceeded to tell me that people look at him differently because of his arm and what he is missing. He said that he doesn’t think of himself as disabled because he has lived his whole life like this and doesn’t know any different. He also said that he has never let it hold him back from living life. He told me that he just tells people, “Baby, I was born this way!” Lucas was a great addition to our team and was even selected as lifeguard of the month for us in February.” — Assistant Director of Aquatics, Great Wolf Lodge.
Lucas feels very proud to have experienced American culture and to have worked in a place that provided him the opportunity to prove himself, without be awarded special treatment or treated differently. He feels Great Wolf Lodge is a model to be followed by all Brazilian water parks and hopes to take what he has learned home to make a difference.
“I am immensely proud to have worked in a place that cares about special needs accessibility and their well-being. I am very grateful for the credit that was placed in me, and for the opportunity that Great Wolf Lodge gave me to show that WE ARE ALL ABLE, independent of the differences and limitations. More than an international work experience, the Great Wolf Lodge gave me friends and memories that I will carry for my whole life.” – Lucas Santos.
During his work & travel program, Lucas was also able to take a second job as a DJ, which created other opportunities for him to share in cultural activities with other international students. It allowed him to express in music what it means to be different, and that being “born this way” has never discouraged his strive to not just fit in, but to be accepted as anyone else would be. He was also able to take full advantage of traveling the United States, taking up snowboarding and enjoying the winter with Americans.
Positive, empowering messages and opportunities to experience meaningful exchanges not only help to dispel the myth that individuals with physical differences are less capable than others, but also foster acceptance and understanding among the global community. Through cultural exchange, Lucas was not alone in learning something new, but rather took on the teaching role and showed everyone he came in contact with how to overcome obstacles, break down barriers, and make a positive impact on others.
It is inspiring to come across such a determined young man. One cannot help but be affected by his persistence and overall positive attitude. He entered the world, “born this way”, missing something normally there, but you would never say he was disabled. If anything, you’d say he was born to enable others.
Great Wolf Lodge Resort – Wisconsin Dells 2013