Like many Brazilians raised in the United States, I often felt like a fish out of water. My parents moved to the US when I was eight, subjecting me to a huge cultural change that would define my childhood. I'm proud of the ways that adjustment has shaped my personality.
I grew up in Bangor, Maine, where South Americans are rare, particularly non-Spanish speaking ones. I was always an anomaly in school, a young girl whose exotic dark looks contrasted sharply with those of my my New England classmates. Yet children are blessed in their ability to look beyond the superficial, and I was quickly accepted into the fold as another happy child.
My hardest adjustments were with language. I was raised speaking Brazilian Portuguese, and my parents also taught me Spanish. Nothing was as difficult as abruptly having to learn English in a non-Portuguese-speaking nation. The school department in Bangor had no facilities for ESL (English as a Second Language), so I learned English strictly by working with an English teacher and an old set of Berlitz language tapes.
It was not easy.
I quicky learned to read and write English, but my initial attempts at conversation were frustrating. I could visually "see" the word I needed in my mind, but I could not verbalize it properly. Verb conjugation was a nightmare (sing, sang, sung) as were similar sounding words (to, two, too). When I made mistakes, people often looked at me as if I was from another planet. Fortunately, I am a secure person by nature and do not get uptight when I'm criticized. My first year in the US definitely tested that strength of character.
My most positive experience occurred in high school, because I was surrounded by friends eager to learn about other...