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Family support, host family, new friends impact Brazil’s Laura Rauscher

Laura Rauscher | The Feather Online

Laura Rauscher grew up in São Paulo, Brazil, before studying abroad in the United States as a 15-year-old.

At fourteen years old, my parents surprised me with a conversation about studying abroad. My first reaction was a scream of delight, but I really felt terrified and desperate. Without knowing the gravity of the experience I was about to face, I agreed to their idea.

I noticed my parents weren’t comfortable enough talking about this around me, but by hearing their tone of voice I could tell they were nervous and indecisive.

Mom and dad knew that I struggled my freshman year in Brazil, not only academically, but also socially. I often found myself surrounded by people with different values than me, as my peers spent their time indulged in partying, leaving me feeling ostracized.

Leaving the São Paulo, Brazil airport two months later without my parents, tears rolling down my cheeks, out of breath, heart beating rapidly, I realized their arms of support would no longer be available no matter how much I needed their hugs or encouragement.

I left my home country 7,312 km (4,543.50 miles) away and traveled to a foreign land where I did not know how to communicate. The cultural norms were alien to me and social connections were limited. I felt completely lost.

Arriving at the FAT airport August 2017, without phone service, I eagerly but nervously scanned the crowd, hoping to see a host family at the baggage claim. A woman holding a sign caught my attention: ‘Welcome to America, Laura.’

I was so relieved to see someone there for me. While I barely knew how to introduce myself, the woman responded excitedly, “I’m your agency coordinator and I’ll take you to your new home.” 

Trusting her, I got into the car and left the airport, observing the Fresno streets and having no idea where I was. Still unable to get in touch with my parents and not knowing where she would take me, I just gave my life into God’s hands.

Laura Rauscher | The Feather Online

Rauscher poses in front of the ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue in Brazil.

By week’s end, I felt very welcome and comfortable with my new host family. While I didn’t really know much about them to start with, they sat down going over house rules and what are the things I like. 

I was very pleased that my host family researched about my culture and had a conversation with my parents about my personality before I got there. I immediately felt linked to them. Their limited understanding of the Brazilian culture helped bridged the gap between strangers.

While some rough days still challenged me, the experiences during my sophomore year in Fresno ended up becoming necessary for my own growth. 

During my first year in California, I received some disapproving looks from American students because of how I dressed and how I spoke. I went through situations where I wanted to give up because I did not feel welcomed.

American students often joked around by repeating my accent in a rude way, showing how wrong my English skills sounded. I felt uncomfortable when they questioned me about not having a Green Card. However, AmeriStudent students aren’t required to have one; they only require an F1 student visa.

In the beginning, I attended school without understanding any words the teacher would say. Google translator became my best friend and way to communicate with people.

Then my grandfather passed away.

An international phone call woke me up on Nov. 7, 2017, and I felt completely numb and lost. I refused to go to school for a week. My closest grandparent was no longer with me.

Sadness overwhelmed me. Every second I remembered his face, not understanding the reason why this happened to our family. I was desperate, suffocated that I was not able to say goodbye to him. I cried for days.

I wished it was all a dream and I could wake up with a call from him saying that it was all a lie. My mother’s father was gone. With my mom living in London often and my dad in Brazil, it made matters worse. Mom, dad and I could not attend the funeral which made the whole situation even more upsetting.

As I looked for something to distract me after my grandfather died, I decided to channel my emotions in a positive way to benefit others.

As a first-year international student, I decided to join the H.A.N.D.S club at Fresno Adventist Academy, the school that I attended. They created an opportunity for students to serve the Fresno community by donating school supplies and doing a canned food drive. I also volunteered as a kindergarten aid, learning how to assist the children in homework while helping the teacher in other tasks.

As my sophomore year ended, I felt very settled in America. My desire was to stay but I was desperate to see my parents and friends in Brazil. At this point, I wavered to return to my home country for my junior year. However, my heart guided me to return to California to finish my high school experience. Today I know it was the right choice.

I want to credit my mom to choosing to live in Fresno during my junior year. She supported my choice and believed in me. 

Megan LeBlanc | The Feather Online

Rauscher (middle) involves herself in many activities including volleyball and home economics. She is flanked by senior friends Lindsay Weimer, left, and Deborah Ingerson.

Even though she had to completely change her lifestyle by moving with me, her investment in my future changed the course of my life. I felt safe and more comfortable with her by my side. However, we were no longer with an international agency during my junior year; I couldn’t attend the same school again. 

Moving to Clovis West High School as a junior, I started over once again. I joined a tennis team where I ended up earning the Coaches Award and made very good friends. My tennis coach was one of the most supportive people that I’ve met. I really appreciated his belief in me and how he became a role model for all of us on the team.

This past summer, I visited São Paulo and the time I spent with my father touched and impacted me. Seeing my dad living by himself and visualizing his heartache was so hard, as we were apart for one year. He missed me so much.

I knew what I was doing was right. By going back to Brazil, noticing my dad wasn’t only busy with his job, I understood what it is like to support someone who is far away for so long.

When I told my dad, “I love you, and when I get back, I’ll spend more time working in our company with you,” my dad beamed and answered, “I have been waiting for you say that my whole life.” We hugged and tears streamed down our cheeks. His “I love you” means even more today.

Now I am with AmeriStudent, attending Fresno Christian for my senior year. Of all three years as an international student, I felt most welcomed and loved at Fresno Christian. 

Even though I was the only Brazilian on campus, students were interested in my nationality and my personal life. Many students new to me wanted to learn more about me and they encouraged me to be part of their family. Teachers believe in me and support me despite my struggles. I’m so excited to finish my senior year and build new friendships!

Laura Rauscher is an international student from São Paulo, Brazil.  São Paulo is Brazil’s largest city and the world’s seventh largest. It is the foremost industrial centre in Latin America. To read Rauscher’s first article, read Spotlight Productions: Newsies musical open call campus auditions.

To learn more about the international students at Fresno Christian, read Campus students celebrate Chinese New Year, Feb. 5. Interested parents, students or agents can also contact Brooke Stobbe, the AmeriStudent International Program Coordinator via email.

For another column, read COLUMN: President strives for inclusivity or COLUMN: SAT preparation. 

Laura Rauscher can be reached via email.

Brazilian international student Laura Rauscher’s family photo slideshow.

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