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Postsecondary student spotlight: Wila Matos

My name is Wila Matos. I am a Onward We Learnr and will be graduating this May from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in Africana studies. 

I grew up in an Afro-Latinx household in Providence, Rhode Island. My parents migrated to the U.S. for a better chance at life; however, like many, they faced many obstacles in their path to achieve the American dream. From an early age, I was able to observe how the power of language and access to opportunities influences the success of individuals in this country. Despite that, it never occurred to me that these life lessons would direct me on the path that I’m on now. 

When I reflect on the start of my career journey three places come to mind: The Met High School, the Onward We Learn, and Youth in Action (YIA). I graduated from the Met in 2015 and participated in the Onward We Learn and YIA throughout my high school career. Each place supported me with amazing mentors, encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and provided me with different opportunities to be on college campuses and speak with college students. It really gave me the confidence to pursue higher education and discover what else the world had to offer. I remember the Onward We Learn had an opportunity to spend the night at the University of Rhode Island and this was the selling point for me to attend. The Onward We Learn didn’t just give me opportunities to attend college but allowed me to dream endlessly and envision myself actually being there.  

My college experience was not a straight path. Being the first in your family to go to college can be an exciting and terrifying experience because you are figuring everything out on your own. I had a hard time adjusting to college the first couple of years and made many mistakes along the way. Eventually, I made the hard decision to take a year off from school. During this time, I worked for The Met and the Onward We Learn CAAP program, which was an opportunity to continue developing my deep passion for education and helping my community. Taking a year off from school gave me the chance to reflect on what I really wanted.  

When I returned, I was determined to participate in a study abroad program in Cabo Verde. I had an incredible time and learned so much about Cape Verdean culture, history, and politics. The connection between Rhode Island and Cabo Verde allowed me to understand members of my community a lot better. I wanted to find more opportunities to explore different countries and learn languages. I applied to Fulbright for these reasons but discovered that I had similar interests and values to the program. I applied for an English Teaching Assistantship position in Brazil to work with college students who would later become English teachers. I am very proud and excited to have won because I want to learn from others around the world and bring it back to the U.S. to show others what I have learned.   

Currently, I live abroad in Cabo Verde teaching English in Praia to continue learning Portuguese and Creole. It has been an incredible journey. I never thought I’d graduate with a Fulbright to teach English in Brazil.