When Gisele Fleury Lemos arrived in Brookfield from Brazil for her one-year stint under a Rotary Club exchange student program, she was very homesick, she said.
“But, I think I was more homesick when I left,” she said. “You never know, ‘When will I be able to come back?’ That’s what you wondered.”
Lemos was back in June visiting the Brookfield families she became close to during the 1985-86 school year. It was her fifth visit.
“It’s very nice to be home again,” she said from the home of Jerry and Carol Thompson. “It feels like home.”
“That’s a nice feeling for us,” Jerry Thompson said of Lemos considering Brookfield to be home. Carol Thompson added that Lemos took to life here very quickly.
“Some of the exchange students, when they come, don’t adapt very well,” Carol said. “Gisele adapted from the very day you arrived.”
Lemos lived with the Medved, Bradac and Rotunna families during her exchange year, and spent a lot of time with the Thompsons. Jerry Thompson was president of the Brookfield Rotary Club at the time, and oversaw the exchange program.
“You don’t have to see each other all the time to have this bond,” Lemos said. “I think that is a bond that’s built to be forever.”
When she arrived, all Lemos knew of America was what she had seen in movies, she said. She came from Jundiai, a city of about 300,000 that is about 50 miles from Sao Paolo. She could take public transportation or walk anywhere she needed to go. In Brookfield, she had to be driven everywhere, she said.
“You’re very modern,” she said. “The roads were much more modern than in Brazil, and the school system was different because you got to pick your classes. In Brazil, we had to take all the classes. You don’t pick classes.”
She was at first aghast, and then amazed, that Americans could drink water straight from the tap without getting sick, she said. She also gained 40 pounds during her stay, thanks to the American diet, and learned to snow ski.
“The American Way, it’s a little bit different from Brazil,” Lemos said. “One thing that we have in common is the fight for democracy, which I think nowadays is very important so something that I learned – you gotta fight for that, democracy, not only in America, not only in Brazil, but in the whole world.”
The fight for democracy is so strong with her that she served on a commission on human rights and democracy in Jundiai.
“Brazil’s a big country with a lot of opportunities, like America,” Lemos said. “I think we resemble in that.”
Lemos became a lawyer, specializing in civil and family law, and her husband and two daughters, ages 29 and 31, also are lawyers.
Through the exchange program, Lemos saw the world – not just America, but through becoming friends with other exchange students from other countries who were here at the time, and by getting to know exchange students who came here before and after she did. They stay in touch through Facebook and occasional visits.
“I have many good memories,” Lemos said. “All my host families, they were super nice. I think I was the lucky exchange student because my friends were very helpful in school. I still talk to some of them on Facebook. I liked going to school, learning English and making friends. I think what I learned more, and Jerry and Carol they were responsible for that, you make not only friends, but you see that the world, it’s so small and everybody can be friends and we should work for friendship for world understanding.”