Student Spotlight: Julia Coelho

Amartya Sinha, Staff Writer

The Turf’s Amartya Sinha sat down with Julia Coelho, an international student in the junior girls’ class, who embarked on a journey by herself across continents at the age of 15.

Amartya Sinha: What made you want to participate in AFS [American Field Service Intercultural Programs]?

Julia Coelho: So since I was very little, I’ve always wanted to go live abroad in another culture, so my parents have always known that this would happen. My mom’s friend’s daughters went on exchange programs with AFS, and so did my brother. He actually came to Houston too, so then I came this year.

AS: Oh, that’s cool! How old is your brother? Do you have any other siblings?

JC: My brother is 17. He also came when he was 15, [and] he studied at Lamar High School. And no, it’s only him and I [sic].

AS: Oh ok. Is he still in the US? Also, moving on to you, how did you feel about coming here? What was it like with you and your friends and family the weeks leading up to your move? Were you scared or excited on the plane ride over here?

JC: He’s not here anymore. I’m only here for one year, knowing that I will go back to Brazil made this not so hard. I think it will be harder when I leave here. I was very excited and anxious to come here as I’ve dreamed about doing an exchange program my whole life basically. In Brazil I have a big group of friends, and we are very close to each other. So leaving them was hard, but I have 3 other friends that are [in] the same situation as I am in other countries. Whenever one is sad or going through problems, or even when we are happy, we send messages to tell [each other] what’s going on. I’m very afraid of planes and that was my biggest fear coming here. I had flown several times before but never actually without someone I know. I was so scared that I searched how to survive in an open sea in case there was a plane accident.

AS: And now that you’re here, how has it been for you? Has this country or city or experience been anything like you expected?

JC: Now that I’m here I’m excited to see how this year will be like, and I expect to make a lot of friends. I really like Houston; it’s very different than my city in Brazil, especially the weather, but the good part is that there are a lot of Mexican restaurants and a few Brazilian restaurants, too, so whenever I miss the taste of Brazil, I can go to one.

AS: Well that’s good! I’m glad that you like it here. Was Houston anything like you pictured it (or America in general) to be like? Have you been able to make any good friends or acquaintances here, yet?

JC: So I had been to the US several times before coming here, so it wasn’t a very big surprise, but my brother told me a lot about the city too. So far I’ve made a few friends but I hope to become closer to them and make other friends too

AS: So, how has the transition been like moving here? Living with a host family? Also, what was your experience with Harvey like? Being hit by a hurricane your first week at school had to have been tough. Especially since your host family’s house had unfortunately flooded. How did you feel? What did you have to go through?

JC: It’s been very different. I came [to] live and become part of a family that I didn’t even know. The first days were a little awkward, but as time goes by we start to feel more comfortable. My Harvey experience was crazy; I mean we don’t really have natural disasters like hurricanes in Brazil, so I had never been in a situation like that. It was sad actually seeing the disaster that a hurricane can cause, but it was good seeing how people are willing to help. My ex-geography teacher back in Brazil facetimed me, and I explained the situation to some classes back in Brazil.  

AS: Are there any major differences you’d like to point out between Brazil and Texas? Like in terms of weather, cities, and like how the schools and schooling system might be different? Is Houston a lot different socially you feel?

JC: Brazil is a very big country, so the weather varies from region to region. My city’s weather is very different than Houston’s. Houston’s weather is very humid and I did suffer a little bit in the beginning… School system is also very different, my school back in Brazil would start [at] 7:10 and end [at] 12:40, and we would only have “ordinary” classes. Plus, we don’t get to choose our subjects back in Brazil. Another thing that is very different is changing classrooms. In Brazil each grade has its classrooms, and  the teachers move, not the students. That’s one of the reasons why we don’t have lockers in our schools, too.