2016 Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Student Leaders from Europe – Social Entrepreneurship – University of Tennessee at  Chattanooga

«When I first received the phone call telling me that I had been selected to participate on the Social Entrepreneurship program, I had no idea of how much it would change my life.  It started to become clear when I arrived at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and first met the amazing people who, in the following 5 weeks, would become my SUSI family.

For those who are reading this and wandering – what is Chattanooga? – as I did when I got that phone call, let me share this with you: Chattanooga, located in the state of Tennessee,  is the city that was declared the dirtiest of the nation in 1969. It is the same city that, in 2015, was considered the best location to live if you like outdoors activities.  And what is really important to know is how this major change was carried on by the city’s own community, moved by a strong sense of responsibility, awareness and most of all, the entrepreneurship spirit that is so deeply ingrained in Chattanoogans.  It was a big asset that this program would take place on a city like this and not one day would go by without learning from the people and organizations in Chattanooga, and how they worked together to come up with creative ideas to solve all the social issues that were affecting their community.

During the program we had the chance to visit different companies and organizations and learn from their experience. We had the incredible opportunity to sit with community groups and debate social issues express our opinion, present them with ideas. We rolled up our sleeves and worked together, side by side, volunteering with institutions and also working on projects to come up with problem-solving ideas, from as many points of view as there were nationalities.

It was truly inspiring to work with people from so many different countries and being submerged in the American culture for 5 weeks.  We travelled to various different states, tried the real American food, participated in cultural activities and family weekends, and every time we were received with warmth and hospitality. We had amazing teachers and mentors who cared for us and attended our every need. It felt like home.

Former participants warned me that I would come back a different person, but to be honest, I did not take them seriously at first. However, looking back, I have to admit that they were right. This experience did change me. It changed me as an individual who belongs to a community and who belongs to the world. It made me realize, after getting to know all those people, Americans and Europeans, that maybe we are not so different after all. And most of all, that we all agree on what really matters: one-another, the person next each one of us and working together to be better together.»

Inês Furtado, 2016.