Hugging and kissing everyone all the time, rice and beans with every meal, a maid to cook every meal, cafezinho. These are some of the things, not necessarily in order, that Solange and Fernando look forward to when they return to Brazil. Not to mention the happy craziness of arriving in Brazil during the world cup. New York, cheesecake, black squirrels, friends, and a cute little godson named Owen, are some of the things they will miss here. After five years of studying at universities in New Jersey, USA , they have graduated, and with their degrees in hand , it is time to go home. They are headed for new jobs, new friends, a new life. Their families are happily awaiting their arrival. But after five years, it will be hard to leave the place they have called home for so long.
“I’m very sad to be leaving”, said Solange with tears in her eyes amid packing crates, boxes and half packed luggage. “I have a godson here whom I love very much. I like the life style. Princeton is very special, and my American friends are dear to me”.
Owen begged them to stay. All of their friends are sad. But Solange and Fernando will remember the fun, the good times, their friends, their schools and of course, their pet squirrel, filomena! They will try to forget the food, George Bush, American television, and other bad stuff. They loved the good times, and they got through the bad times. It was always a challenge. With Charles Dickens, they could say “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” There were times they wanted to say with Albert Einstein, Princeton’s most famous resident who lived here from 1933 to 1955, “I am very happy in my new home in this friendly country and the liberal atmosphere of Princeton.” Then there were times they would have agreed with Woody Allen “.a vast primitive wasteland..New Jersey” .
Before they departed for Brazil, I asked them to reflect on their five years here, what it meant to them, and how it would impact their future lives..
Solange and Fernando (on the right) having Thanksgiving dinner with their American friends.
Q. Were most Americans interested in and knowledgeable about Brazil?
A. Yes, they asked lots of questions and wanted to know about the lifestyle and culture. Except for the ones who thought Spanish was the language of Brazil and Buenos Aires was the capital that is! But most people were knowledgeable. However there were some who lumped all of South America together as Spanish speaking, banana republics, all of whom had Buenos Aires as their capital! There weren’t too many of those, thankfully.
Q. Did you feel accepted here?
A. Yes, Americans were very friendly, but we quickly learned that you don’t hug and kiss everyone that you meet. It shocked some of my American friends, especially the ones I didn’t know well, when I was constantly hugging and kissing them!! This was true of the Europeans and Asians I met here, too. So, I had to learn to tone down my Brazilian exuberance.
Q. what was the best part of your experience here?
A. There were several things. The education at our universities was superb. The professors were tops, and in some cases, they were world renowned in their fields. There are lots of things, but our godson, Owen, is at the top of the list. He is the adorable five year old son of some American friends. These friends honored us when he was born by asking us to be his godparents. We loved being close to New York, the theaters, the culture, museums, famous attractions. It is a special town.
Q. what was the worst part of your experience?
We didn’t like American food. It was too fattening and greasy. American television, like Brazilian television, has a lot of junk. It was only on the public radio and television stations that we found quality programs. We didn’t care for George Bush and his policies, especially his war in Iraq. In fact we even campaigned for his opponent, John Kerry, in the 2004 presidential election. Even though we were guests in this country and not citizens, we felt that, because we lived here, we could have a say in the government, too. We were sad when John Kerry lost.
Q. Was it easy to obtain a visa to study here?
A. No, it was difficult. You can apply for a visa after receiving an offer from a university. You have to prove that you have money to pay the tuition, clothes, food and living expenses. The schools give you an estimate saying how much money you need, and you have to prove it by bank statements. There are always long lines at the immigration offices. We had to spend a whole day there in São Paulo. The service was poor. There weren’t enough people in the office to serve everyone efficiently.
Q. How will your experience here impact your future lives?
A. Living in a foreign culture, learning a new language, new customs, made us look at the world differently and grow as people. We have a broader perspective on the world now, and we can bring this perspective with us to our new jobs in Brazil. Our employers were impressed with our resumes and liked the fact that we had studied at universities in the United States. The opportunity to improve our English while living among native speakers in the United States was priceless.
Q. How did you like living in the Northern Hemisphere, more especially the northeastern part of the United States, with its extremely cold winters?
The first winter here, we thought we would die. But when we finally bought the right kind of winter clothes and learned how to dress properly, it wasn’t that bad. When the heating in our house started working properly that helped, too. But we got to where we loved the snow and even learned to ski. It wasn’t easy, and we often think how lucky we were that we didn’t break any legs, wrists or ankles that first winter. We eventually got pretty good at this sport.
Q. What advice would you give to other Brazilians thinking of coming to study at universities in the United States?
A. I would say go for it .It will change your life. You will make lifelong friends, your English will improve tremendously, and it will be a great adventure. There will be many challenges, but it will be a rewarding experience. The education you receive will be tops.