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Leo

November 28, 2006

Last night I picked up one of my students for ESL class because his
friend was unable to drive him.  It was a nice opportunity to chat
on topics other than the differences between Portuguese and
English. 

Leo is one of my best students.  Not only is he friendly and
outgoing, he is also painfully meticulous in class and likes to be 100%
accurate with his English.  He reminds me of myself as a
student.  When I introduce new words, I notice him making notes in
Portuguese to help him remember the pronunciations, as I used to do
when I was learning Portuguese.  He also likes to know the rules
for pronunciation, grammar, word order, etc., as I do. 

Leo also happens to be just about my age, but his life couldn’t be more
different from mine.  After chatting briefly about how American
couples often live together before getting married, whereas Brazilian
couples who do so are often frowned upon, our conversation turned to
how difficult it is for Leo to find time to study even though he
sincerely wants to learn English.  He shared with me that he works
almost the entire day, then returns home to prepare himself dinner (he
doesn’t like to eat store-bought food), after which he calls his family
in Brazil (he does this every night) then sends a few emails to his
friends, and soon after that he is ready to sleep. 

At 24, Leo lives alone, over 5,000 miles away from his family, his
friends, his girlfriend, and his school (he came to the USA before he
could complete his bachelor’s degree).  He expressed to me that he
hopes to be able to return to Brazil in time to spend Christmas 2007
with his family, the first Christmas he would spend with them in five
years.  He wants to re-enroll at his university, get a good job,
and continue on with the life he grew up knowing–provided that
Brazil’s economy grows enough to offer decent jobs to college graduates.

I can tell that Leo’s lonely, that he longs to go out more often and
make more friends here in the States, but he simply can’t afford
to.  He explained that he’s seen other Brazilian immigrants throw
their money away on beer and clubs, but he’s not willing to spend any
of his hard-earned income on frivolties. 

When I think back to my own time away from my home country, I realize
how incredibly difficult it must be to live so far away for so
long.  I was only in Brazil for five months, and even in that
short amount of time I had painful bouts of homesickness.  And I
even had the benefits of living with a wonderful host family, of making
plenty of friends, and of enjoying a visit from Paul to break up the
distance, neither of which Leo has–and he’s been here for four
years. 

I like to think that I’m a strong person and that I could get through
anything, and I think that I could make it through five years away from
home working in a job I never strove for–but my spirit and my heart
would be close to broken and I would surely cry myself to sleep on many
nights. 

Leo’s ability to put a smile on his face and make an effort to learn
English despite all of the obstacles that stand in his way speak to his
incredible courage.  It is people like Leo who built our country,
and people like Leo who continue to build it.  We should be
grateful for the opportunity to share our nation with such
hard-working, family-oriented individuals; indeed, they may help us to
rebuild our morals in addition to our roadways, homes, and office parks.

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