When she wanted to learn English as a young girl in Brazil, she began taking lessons with a family friend who taught classes out of her home.
A few years later, when Mimi dreamed of going to school in the United States, she researched scholarships to study abroad.
That’s when she found the AFS BP Global Citizens of Tomorrow program, a scholarship fund for economically disadvantaged students of high academic achievement. Even after her first application — which involved writing several essays and traveling two hours away to give a final presentation in English — was turned down, Mimi persisted.
She applied again the following year and went through the entire process a second time - and this time, she won the scholarship.
“I was so happy I cried for an hour,” Mimi says. “I couldn’t handle it.”
She was matched with the Bettler family - John, Maria and their teenage daughters Emily and Carlee - and moved to the western suburbs of Chicago, where she enrolled as a senior at St. Charles North High School. There, Mimi found a very different class environment than what she had experienced in her small hometown in Brazil. At first, the massive school seemed like an endless maze of hallways and lockers - but Mimi not only found her way, she thrived.“
It was a little overwhelming in the beginning - I’d go to bed at 8 o’clock every night because I was so exhausted,” Mimi says. “Doing schoolwork in English was hard at first, because the teachers talked so fast, especially in my chemistry class, where we were learning really technical terms.”
Taking advanced classes in her non-native language, Mimi excelled and quickly reached the top of the honor roll. By the end of her first semester, she had earned the second-highest grade in the school for AP Chemistry and received top marks in her other courses.“
Despite initial reservations from Mimi’s Honors English teacher, who had witnessed exchange students perform poorly in her class, she informed us at the parent-teacher conference that Mimi was a top student,” says John.
The Bettlers wanted to help Mimi realize her dream of attending college in the United States, so they asked her mother in Brazil if they could take her along on a few campus visits with their daughter Emily. With Mimi’s mother’s support, the Bettlers also helped her sign up for the ACT. Mimi took the test in December of her senior year and scored a 29, placing her in the top 10 percent.“
To me, that is amazing given the fact that this test is given in English,” says John. “We are very proud of her.”
Outside the classroom, Mimi was involved in a number of extracurricular activities as well. She volunteered with her school’s Key Club and helped connect other local study-abroad students within the AFS community by organizing trips to Chicago and planning parties.
Her willingness to try new things led her to audition for her school’s production of Macbeth without any prior theatre experience. Although she wasn’t cast in the play, Mimi volunteered to help the wardrobe department with costumes and make-up.“
I wanted to try everything, because we never had clubs at school in Brazil,” Mimi says. “We didn’t have theatre class, so I wanted to do it here.”
As she entered the spring semester of her senior year, Mimi began her search for the right college - several months behind many of her peers, who started their applications in the fall. After looking at a few different schools, she applied to the University of Evansville in Indiana, which offered her a generous scholarship. The Bettlers set up a fundraiser called Project Mimi to help her raise the rest of the money she’d need for tuition and others essentials like room and board.
When Mimi graduated from St. Charles North with high honors, the Bettlers placed congratulatory signs in their front yard for both Emily and Mimi.
“Mimi is definitely part of our family,” says John.
Today Mimi is in her sophomore year at Evansville, majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry. At no surprise to the Bettlers, she finished her freshman year with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Mimi hopes to pursue a career as a genetic counselor, combining her love of science and research with her passion for helping people.
Her advice to other young people with big dreams that may seem out of reach?
“Don’t give up. If it’s your dream, it’s going to come true - so just fight for it.”