People: Boyle County senior Eliane Romeiro Fernandes of Brazil

May 17, 2004|GARY MOYERS

On May 28, Eliane Romeiro Fernandes will join her fellow Boyle County High School seniors by receiving her diploma at graduation ceremonies.

Nine months later, she'll pull off a rare double achievement when she receives another diploma from her high school in her native Brazil.

"When I go home June 6, it will be winter vacation in my school," said the 17-year-old daughter of Elvi Romeiro Fernandes. "That lasts for 15 days, then we go back to school for nine months. And then I will graduate with my classmates."

That simple statement by the personable guest of host family Mr. and Mrs. Paul Elwyn and their daughter, Lauren, belies the fact that Fernandes has undertaken a challenging course of study.


"At home, we are required to take 12 courses each year," she said. "They will be physics, chemistry, biology, math, English, Spanish, Portuguese, geography, and art, with some other courses of our choice."

Note the three language courses - Fernandes is fluent in all three (Portuguese is her native tongue) as well as a Native American dialect spoken in her hometown.

"I actually live on the border between Paraguay and Brazil; our main street is the border," she said.

Fernandes' fluency in English did not come naturally, however.

"We learn the basics in elementary school, but I took two special courses before I came here in August," she said. "They helped, but they are more formal. Here, I had to learn the real meanings of the words, and it took some time."

Living and studying in the United States for an entire school year has been challenging but rewarding, she said.

"My grades are important to me," she said. "I spend most of my time studying to keep up. Some of the classes, I have had to translate to Portuguese so I can understand them better, then do my work, then translate them back to English to turn in to the teachers. Sometimes, it takes extra time."

So much time, in fact, that Fernandes laments the fact that she has not become more involved with the teen social scene.

"I have spent most of my time on the academics," she said with a shy smile. "I think that was because when I came here, at first I didn't know anyone, and I didn't understand anyone very well. Now, well, it's the way I study. It takes much of my time."

The language barrier was quickly overcome by Fernandes' work ethic. But, she said, cultural differences have been another part of her education.

"In many ways, teenagers in my country are like teenagers in America," she said. "But there are many differences. At first I was nervous about the differences, but very soon I learned to enjoy them."

She calls Laura Elwyn "her sister," and said the Elwyn family has become her own.

"They treat me the same as if I were their own daughter," she said. "I have become very close to all of them, and will miss them very much when I leave. I hope very much to come back and visit them again, and maybe they will come to visit my country."

Fernandes plans to graduate from her high school in Brazil and follow that with a college degree, probably from a Brazilian university.

"But I would like to come back to America for maybe some post college study," she said. As for a career choice, "I think I would like to do something that deals with people and allows me to travel.

"I have been to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and I found out I like to visit new places."

She said she looks forward to seeing her mother and friends in Brazil but will miss Danville when she leaves.

"When I first came here, I missed my mother very badly, and all my friends," she said. "I missed them at the holidays as well. But I have made many new friends here, and I will be sad to leave them in June. I will stay in touch with them, though. I have e-mail at my home, and my friends have promised to stay in touch with me."

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