“Why are you going to America to study?” That was the question Carlos Oliveira, 17, of Jaboticabal, Brazil, asked his friend, who was going to the U.S. as an exchange student last year.
“He told me that it would improve his English, so I talked with him about how to become an exchange student,” Oliveira said.
It wasn’t long after that conversation, that Oliveira and two of his friends, Eduardo Bolizelo and Victor Vatini, made the journey to the United States.
At first, in late August 2016, the three went through orientation in Chicago, Ill. learning of rules they would have to follow, such as no drinking alcohol, no using drugs, no smoking cigarettes and no driving any motorized vehicles. The students were also taught how to integrate better into the host families, as well. All of them planned to stay a year.
Brian and Sheryl Czech of Bowlus have hosted foreign exchange students for many years.
It started back in 2010, when the two wanted their son, Martin, now 16, to grow up with someone else at the house. Even though they have other children, their youngest besides Martin, was Anna, who was six years older than he.
“We’ve had exchange students from Spain, France, Denmark, China and now Brazil,” Sheryl said.
Host families are given a list of students who need to be placed with information of their interests and more. Host families usually submit extensive information on their family, as well as photos of their home. However, that information is not given to the student.
The only thing Oliveira was told about his host family was that they had other exchange students before, their names, address, emergency numbers, how many family members and their ages, and the name of the school he would attend.
“You don’t find out anything more about the family until you have said ‘Yes.’ Saying yes is like saying yes to something you don’t even know what you’re saying yes to,” Oliveira said.
“All along through all these kids we’ve had, I’ve always thought it was something they saw before they approved us. Only to find out that they don’t,” Sheryl said.
Even though Oliveira was placed with a great host family, it has taken some getting used to. After all, the population of 287 in Bowlus compared to Oliveira’s hometown of about 80,000, is a significant difference.
When Minnesota faces colder temperatures and snow on the ground, it’s summer in Brazil.
“In the beginning when he came, he was like freezing to death,” Sheryl said.
Oliveira said he now likes the colder weather more. If anything, it gives him a reason to wear comfortable sweatshirts, he said.
One of the many things the Czechs do to help exchange students integrate better into the family is to suggest they be called “mom” and “dad,” but only if the student is comfortable doing so.
Brian said when exchange students call them by their first names, it establishes the relationship to be more of a friendship rather than the two being host parents.
“Calling us ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ shows the relationship between us more clearly,” Brian said.
Oliveira said the exchange program staff are more concerned about placing the students in good host families rather than in good schools, because they would spend the most time with the family.
“They are a very nice host family and help me improve. Dad helps me with my English, too. My host family is better than I expected,” Oliveira said.
Two things in the Czech household Oliveira has come to love are the homecooked food and house and time spent together, as a family.
Back in Brazil, they eat out every day, since his biological mom is vegan and also doesn’t cook.
In Brazil, more fresh food items are used. Frozen foods are more common in the U.S., Oliveira said.
After supper at the Czech table, the family meets in the game room to either play cards or a board game.
“It’s different than from Brazil. They play here because they want to have fun. But in Brazil, if I asked them to come and play some games, they wouldn’t want to sit at a table for an hour and play,” Oliveira said.
Brian, Martin and Oliveira agreed there is only one rule that applies when playing, especially when they play the board game, “The Settlers of Catan.”
“The one rule is: ‘Don’t block mom,’” they all said in unison and laughed.
Oliveira said Sheryl can get quite competitive, but it’s the fun, love and laughter around the table that has him hooked on board games.
Oliveira said the education system is quite different than what he is used to. While he is staying with his host family, he attends Royalton High School (RHS). Back in Brazil, he attends a large private school.
“Even though Royalton High School is a small public school, their education is better and they have more resources,” he said.
Oliveira is also intrigued by the fact that the government invests in education and values it.
“In Brazil, they don’t educate a lot of the population,” he said. “The last two presidents didn’t even finish high school.”
College is free for students in Brazil to attend. While that may be nice, Oliveira said the test that is administered for admission is too difficult and advanced for students who attended a public school to pass. Some classes in public school have 40-60 students, he said.
“The government thinks that if the population is not educated more, then it’s easier for them to do what they want them to do,” Oliveira said.
Even though Oliveira considers the teachers to be friendlier in Brazil, as it is their culture, he really likes the teachers at RHS.
“The teachers look at how you can work hard to improve your education. They are very good teachers and are willing to help you if you have difficulty,” he said.
Oliveira likes the students at RHS, as well. They are very friendly and inclusive and he has made several friends, he said.