Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Youth Ambassadors -- A Series of Memories -- #1) When They Called Me

Hello, guys. I hope you're having a great week. I'm still complaining about the lack of sunlight in my life, but today I'll dedicate this blog entry to other topics. Or, rather, to a (singular) different topic: The Youth Ambassadors program. In January, the new YAs will be coming to the U.S. and I often see how nervous they are getting on Facebook, how excited and anxious to know more and more about what awaits them next year.

I decided, then, to write a series of articles dedicated to my Youth Ambassadors memories. I don't know how helpful they are, but I just thought that reading what a former YA went through might help them get a tiny idea of how wonderful this opportunity will be in their lives. Of course, every person experiences this program from their own perspective, but in general all of us seem to be on the same boat when it comes to feeling overwhelmed by the world of possibilities the U.S. Embassy offers.

I hope you'll enjoy my articles, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions, general doubts, comments, words of wisdom, etc. If you don't know me, I'm Rebecca Carvalho, YA '07, from Recife - PE, Brazil. I currently live in Madison, Wisconsin, and last summer I graduated with a B.A in English from Lawrence University. Nice to meet you, and congrats if you're a new YA. If you aren't, I encourage you to apply again next year. If you can't apply due to whatever reasons you might have, there are so many other opportunities -- some of them even offered by the U.S. Embassy -- that I highly recommend you should try. Never give up!

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When They Called Me
By Rebecca Carvalho
Youth Ambassador '07, Recife - PE, Brazil

I couldn’t believe the U.S. Embassy was calling me to say I had been chosen to be a Youth Ambassador. I started crying on the phone. I think I momentarily forgot everything I knew about good manners, and simply started sobbing. My mom, poor thing, didn’t know what was going on. She thought I had received awful news, and took the cell phone from me to hear them as well.

There’s a good chance I scared Edvaldo, too, who was calling me in behalf of the embassy. He still jokes about it. He said he didn’t know what to do, and was afraid that my mom could have thought he was upsetting me.

It’s just that he caught me off guard. That day my head was filled with different worries. I ddn’t know whether Federal University of Pernambuco would accept me into their journalism program. I was afraid I wouldn’t be going to college. I was overwhelmed -- Yes, entirely overwhelmed by my future and the possibility of failure. That year, 2006, had been the strangest in my life.

Most of my friends at Military School had been investing on private afternoon lessons. They were avid learners and competitive classmates. Some of them wanted to go to military academies, and the competition to get into one of those schools is even stronger. At very young ages, they were already ruthless mathematicians, they knew literary history by heart, and physics was as easy as if they had been the writers of those laws.

My family, however, didn’t have the means to pay for extra classes. I had never been good at math, and that year I was particularly afraid that what my knowledge wouldn’t be enough to get me into a federal university -- the only place where we could afford, since it is free.

“You don’t need private lessons to succeed,” my mom told me, “you can do this on your own. Your brain is healthy and you’re a determined girl. Fight with what you have.”

I, then, followed her advice. That piece of wisdom is what kept me studying non-stop for an entire year. I dedicated my afternoons to mathematics, chemistry and physics, and read Brazilian and Portuguese literature to relax. Although humanities had always been dear subjects, I knew I couldn’t simply ignore them. I spent Saturdays and Sundays with world and Brazilian history, reading and learning everything my instinct told me was necessary to know.

My routine that year was very strict. I got home from school at 1:00 p.m. and from 2:00 to 5:00 I studied locked in my room. Since I didn’t have a computer, there was nothing that could distract me. It was just me, with an occasional cat sleeping surrounded by piles and more piles of books, and learning. At 5:00, I took a break to eat dinner and spend some time with my family and watch TV. If I didn’t have anything that required more studying -- like an exam, or a presentation -- I simply stayed in the living room watching TV, writing and reading. If I had something that required more preparation, I’d just take an hour break at 5:00 and go back to studying until midnight.

On Fridays, the day I took time to sleep, I’d go straight to my room after lunch, and often slept from 1:00 p.m. non-stop until around 5:00 a.m. the next day. I don’t know what made me sleep so deeply, but perhaps my body was in constant need of recovery. My dreams were often populated by teachers I had never met in real life, who told me what I had to study, who advised me and explained problems I had trouble solving. They were always, always right. One day a teacher in my dream told me: “You need to study modern Brazilian literature more. Focus on that.” I did what he told me. Surprisingly, ‘vestibular’ that year was all about modern literary history. I almost got 100% of my exam right, and to this day I trust the advice of these friends we only know in the world of dreams. And then, on the weekends, I studied from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., stopping only to eat.

So, in 2006, although I was very excited about the possibility of becoming a youth ambassador, there was very little space in my mind to worry about it. When Edvaldo called me that day, I was so distracted I had even forgotten the date the embassy would be announcing the list of new youth ambassadors. I knew, of course, the date was getting closer and closer, because Globo TV and Jornal do Commercio had interviewed me to check how anxious I felt, but I didn’t remember precisely when it would be.
When Edvaldo called me, I could hardly believe they had chosen me.

“This is Edvaldo Amorim, calling from Sao Paulo in behalf of the U.S. Embassy,” he said, and his voice was happy and confident, “have you heard the good news?”

“No, I haven’t,” I said, and was a little bit clueless. My brain, in fact, went blank that day. I could barely make the connection between the U.S. Embassy and the Youth Ambassadors program.

“On, then, let me tell you you’re a youth ambassador.”

And I cried, and cried, and cried a bit more than you think I did. I had focused so much in studying to go to college, that I had barely realized how the Youth Ambassadors program was building up this invisible tension in my head, and the whole thing exploded like fireworks when I got that phone call. It was enchanting.

It was the greatest moment, the happiest moment in my life. I felt so relieved, so free. It was like the universe was telling me my work was worthwhile. It wasn’t just about the Youth Ambassadors; it was about everything in my life. It was about giving my best to accomplish my goals, and trusting that I would be rewarded if I really deserved it. It taught me to be less nervous about vestibular, as well, like I had been when I applied for the second time to be a Youth Ambassador. There was still so much to get done: Vestibular, arrangements for the trip, the trip itself; but, that afternoon, I felt re-energized and more confident that no matter how difficult to achieve them, dreams do come true when you’re ready.

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