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ST. MARYS — For 16-year-old Luis Jordão, an exchange student at St. Marys Memorial High School, small-town America is exciting and different.
Jordão is from Racife, the largest city in Brazilian state Perambuco. The population there, approximately 1.5 million people, is over 180 times the size of St. Marys.
In August, Jordão packed up his stuff and left the coastal town with its warm beaches and oceanside restaurants to move to the United States.
This is not his first encounter with American culture, nor is it his first time in the United States. He was 13 during his first visit here, when he visited a town just outside Austin, Texas, with his mother for two months during a vacation.
“American culture is a very important thing in my life,” he said.
“Even in Brazil, I’ve always watched movies and sitcoms and (listened to) music — it was a very big part of my life.”
Jordão said he views America as a place where people can achieve their dreams.
“This country is where things happen,” he said. “It’s where dreams come true. I feel like if you try really hard to do anything here, you can really get it. Everything is possible. Sometimes in other countries it’s harder to get what you want.
Jordão gets his love for travel from his mother.
“My mother did an exchange when she was twenty-something, so I’ve always grown up hearing stories about her trip and I saw the pictures and everything, and I started my English course when I was 5-years-old,” he said.
“So I always thought I would do it one day. But it wasn’t something real for me. And then, in my school, there was a friend who did an exchange. And I was like, ‘Maybe it’s time for me to do it now.’ She went to America too, in the south. But I was looking at (her) pictures on Facebook and always talking to her, asking her ‘How was it?’”
However, not everything turned out to be exactly how he had pictured it.
“I thought high school would be like the American movies,” he said. “And it’s kind of the same, but it’s different — they really show bullying and groups and stuff, and I felt like people were kind of friendly with me. In the movies, when there’s the new kid, he came, and nobody talks to him. Here everybody’s like, ‘Oh, what’s your name? You are a Brazilian? Oh, that’s awesome.”
He also experienced a bit of culture shock upon arriving in St. Marys.
“There’s also things about a small town that I’m not used to,” he said. “In my city, it’s a big town in Brazil — Racife. I live on the coast. Right in front of the sea. It’s really warm ... it’s a very big town ... And the cultural side of my city is very strong. The Carnival is huge. People go to the streets and dress up.”
Jordão is a junior, but he will be able to “graduate” with the seniors in May.
He will return to Brazil shortly after that, where he will finish the year there as a senior. In Brazil, the school year starts in January and ends in December. He will then graduate from his high school there.
High school in Brazil is different than in America.
“We don’t change (classrooms),” he said.
Instead, the professors for each subject come in and out, and he has the same classmates in every class.
“You don’t choose what you want to do,” Jordão said. “Everybody in the school (does) the same subjects.”
The program that brought him here, he said is called IE, for “Intercambio no Exterior” in Portuguese, which means ‘foreign exchange.’
“This is actually just for Brazil,” he said.
“And they have a big program called ISE. This one is all around the world. But they have IE do the link between Brazil and the ISE. They’re amazing; I really like them. What’s really nice about them is that I do a (form where) I put my personality and things that I like — what kind of music, what do I do, my routine, my parents have to write a letter — it’s a thing that you send them, and the family, when they choose you, they see this (form) ... So my (host) family really matched me.”
He lives with Elicia and Carl Warner, of St. Marys. The Warners have no children, which is similar to Jordão’s family back in Brazil.
“I don’t have any brothers, any siblings in Brazil,” he said. “I’m kind of used to having my own space.”
After his host family, Jordão is most enthusiastic about his academic experience here.
“St. Marys Memorial High School is awesome,” he said.
“You have no idea. They have pop culture class, they have guitar ... I had drama class. I also had some classes that I have to take, because I will translate all my grades from here to Brazil. It’s not just ‘Party in the U.S.A.’, I have to study here, but all the rest, it’s just fun. Drama, digital photography — I have an assignment every week.”
He said the American way of socializing as different than in Brazil, but he said he has not had difficulty in making friends here.
“Something that really helped me a lot was getting into clubs,” he said.
Jordão is involved in drama, the high school show choir Glitter-N-Gold and art club.
One of the most important things he will take away from this experience, he said, is the independence he has gained.
“I have discovered that I can take care of myself,” he said. “I have the support of my family and everything, but I pretty much had to accomplish a lot of stuff.”
Jordão has traveled all over the state of Ohio in his 5 months here, and has plans to venture far outside the Midwest before heading back to Brazil. Trips to New York, California and to Dayton for a Lady Gaga concert are not far off in his future.