Tina Bull thought it was a long shot that her women’s choir, Bella Voce, would earn a spot to perform at the 31st World Congress on Music Education in Porto Alegre, Brazil. They had never auditioned to perform at the conference before, and they would be up against groups from more than 80 countries from around the world.

She sent the audition tape anyway.

To Bull’s delight, Bella Voce was accepted into what is colloquially known as the “Olympics of music education.” “We were selected on our very first try. It’s a really great honor,” Bull says. “The World Congress on Music Education is a coming together of musical cultures from all over the world. It was a rare opportunity for these young women to experience a large-scale event that is not hosted in the U.S. and is not U.S.-dominated.”

The 40-singer group headed to Porto Alegre three days after the 2014 World Cup ended. They performed twice at the conference. Their second, main performance moved the audience so much that they asked for an encore, and flooded the stage when Bella Voce was done.

“It says something about how universal music is,” says Rebecca McDade, a psychology and Spanish major at Oregon State. “Not everybody speaks the same language or has the same style. But everyone can come together and unite over this thing that is music. And that’s pretty cool.”

As one of only two groups representing the United States at the Congress, the women in Bella Voce felt responsible for the image they would create. “We were representing the United States, as well as Oregon State, as well as our own group. And we wanted to leave a lasting impact that the international music community could remember us by,” says Claire McMorris, who is majoring in political science and music.

Though the performances were the focal point of the trip, the group got to experience the city of Porto Alegre beyond the concert hall, often rehearsing in restaurants and churches to prepare for their performances. And many of them got to see life outside the U.S. for the first time.

“I was so excited to go on this adventure of a lifetime with these amazing people,” says Katie Platter, a junior in human development and family sciences with a concentration in pre-nursing/medical humanities. “This trip to Brazil enhanced my education by giving me the skills I need to interact with and to form authentic relationships with people, not only from my university, but from all over the world.”