By Rebecca Falves
Born and raised in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, I never had an interest in learning English or studying abroad, but I ended up doing both. I was very comfortable living in Brazil and found English so difficult that I never thought I would learn it, but fate had a different plan for me.
I started college in 2010 with a major in System Analysis. As a system analyst, I develop software. I have always given my best as a student, which served in leading me to join an exchange program, called Science Without Borders. The program no longer exists, but at the time they sent students to a variety of countries. I applied to go to Portugal because I wanted an experience in another country, but I did not want to learn another language.
I first applied for the program in 2012, but unfortunately they did not accept any students with my major. The next year I decided to try again, just in case. Even though I applied to go to Portugal, I ended up going to the United States. I took an English test called TOEFL ITP because it was the only test my college had available for free. The TOEFL test is how colleges evaluate students’ English abilities and I was chosen by a university that accepted my test. Not all universities accept every type of test.
In August of 2013, I left Brazil to go to Columbia, Missouri in the United States. As soon as I got there, I took a new test to find out my English level. The school only had 2 levels of classes: intermediate advanced and advanced. My English was not good enough to get into the intermediate advanced level, but since I was already there, they let me stay. I was with four other Brazilians that were in the same boat as me.
Our first semester was very hard. I was living in the dorms and my roommate was an American girl. I had to use a translator every time I talked to her. In class the professors were forcing us to use only English. In my room my roommate only spoke English. On TV, only English. In the cafeteria all the food was described in English, but I did not know how to speak English at all. In class I used to observe what people were doing and mimic them. In the cafeteria, sometimes I ordered the wrong thing since I could not figure out what they were serving. When I needed to ask anything to anyone I would have one of my Brazilian friends ask for me.
Since I was not changing my behavior, a few months passed and I wasn’t learning anything. I was always translating word by word when doing my homework and also while reading books. I finally had enough frustration and realized that I needed to change my behavior, so I started to take a different approach. I decided to try and speak English myself. Even though sometimes I would say everything wrong, I was making an attempt to explain myself. I learned that body language helps a lot and that determination is responsible for success.
I took a few trips in the US with some Brazilian friends where English was a big challenge since we did not know a lot. While we were at school we could ‘hide’ from people, but during the trip we had to communicate more often. Our flight got canceled twice and we had a hard time rescheduling it, but now I know the hard times were responsible for teaching me the most.
As soon as I changed my behavior and decided not to be shy and not to be afraid of making mistakes, I learned a lot faster than when I was depending on others to help me.
By the end of my exchange student program, I met an American and ended up falling in love with him. To my surprise, what I resisted the most ended up becoming a new lifestyle for me and I continue learning new things everyday.