Editor’s note: Marion resident Marina Good, a U.S. Citizen who emigrated from Brazil, translated the Portuguese in this article.
Imagine being immersed in an unfamiliar place among gracious villagers who have different customs and speak in a strange tongue.
Welcome to Marion, Kansas.
Simone Cristina, a Brazilian flight attendant, recently finished a month-long sabbatical from her skyward duties, country, and family to improve her English by serving as a volunteer teacher’s aide in Ginger Becker’s first grade class at Marion Elementary School.
As a stewardess on international and domestic flights out of Brazil, Cristina said effective communication in multiple languages is vital.
“In my profession, it is very important to know how to speak English,” Cristina said. “My English has improved a lot but I still need to study more, but now after my experience here in the USA, it will be easier for me to talk with passengers.”
She said the hardest part of learning English is pronunciation because English and Portuguese, the native tongue of Brazil, share some letters that look the same but sound different.
“The children are amazing and I wish I could communicate better with them,” Cristina said. “It’s harder for me to express myself to kids than with adults.”
However, the language barrier didn’t stop her from connecting with students.
“Simone has been so great with the kids. It’s so cute to watch them together.” Becker said. “She’s involved all the time. She’s very good at helping them with their math and during reading time.”
Cristina also took to playing soccer with students during recess and shared personal experiences pertaining to class material.
“We were learning about how vampire bats attach themselves to big animals and the kids were excited to hear that Simone had seen a vampire bat in real life,” Becker said.
Each day Becker, Cristina, and students would compare differences between Brazil and the United States, including the way hamburgers taste in Brazil and if there are parks in big cities there, too.
“Having Simone in class has encouraged me to make sure students broaden their whole concept of the world outside of Marion County,” Becker said.
In Brazil, Cristina lives in Sao Paulo, a city with a population of 12 million. She said her month in Marion has been wonderful contrast to normal city life, which she said is “really crazy sometimes.”
“Everybody helped me a lot and had patience with me,” she said. “I will take home a lot of new things that I learned here. I would do it all over again for sure.”
Cristina stayed with Brad and Jeannie Wildin, an enthusiastic Marion couple who made the opportunity possible for her.
“I think it is a valuable experience for children to experience someone from another country,” Jeannie Wildin said. “The students have been very good English teachers for Simone as she listens to them read and interacts with them.”
Cristina said it would have been more difficult to be away from her Brazilian friends and family if not for the support of the Wildins, Becker, and students.
“The Wildins are wonderful people,” Cristina said. “I’m learning a lot with them too. Sometimes I feel like a teenager again going to school every day.”
The Wildins have a network of Brazilian friends from their time serving as host parents for foreign exchange students.
Cristina met the Wildins through her husband, Guilherme Santos, a pilot and former Marion High School exchange student who stayed with the Wildins.
Becker’s class threw a going-away party Thursday for Simone.
“Simone was already shedding tears when I dropped her off at school in the morning,” Jeannie Wildin said.
During the party, Cristina shared Brazilian candies and flag stickers with students. Wildin also brought “brigadeiro,” a rich and traditional Brazilian sweet.
“They totally loved the gifts,” Wildin said. “I told the kiddoes that they needed to tell Miss Simone ‘obrigado,’ which means ‘thank you’ in Portuguese.”
Becker wrote a heartfelt message to Cristina in Portuguese, and the class gave her flowers and a picture of themselves that conjured more tears from Cristina during the special moment.
“As we left the classroom, the kids yelled, ‘Bye Simone, we love you,’” Wildin said.
Becker hopes her students won’t take the experience with Cristina for granted.
“Respect and love are universal,” she said.