How did you start out?
I’m originally from Brazil and I was an exchange student in the USA during my senior year of High School. I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I loved every minute of my exchange program. My new school, my host family, the food, the language, the culture, everything was just perfect! It was the first time I had been away from home and even though I missed my family and friends back home I never felt very homesick because my host family was wonderful! Everyone was very loving and supportive and they always made me feel right at home. This experience changed my life completely as I was so amazed to see how this family had become so important in my life in such a short period of time and how much love we had for each other.
As I was on my last year of High School I was in the process of deciding what career I wanted to pursue as I was going to start college when I returned to Brazil. That’s when I decided that I wanted to work with international students and help other kids have the opportunity to experience life abroad. I can definitely say that my career in the International Education Industry started during my High School program in the USA.
I went back to Brazil and got a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism, as this was the closest degree I could find that was slightly related to international travel. During the time I was in college I did some other work exchange programs in the USA during the summer. I also started giving private English lessons to students as a way to stay connected with the language and help other people improve their English.
In 2002, after I graduated, I started an International Education Agency with 4 other people in Brazil. My parents were very supportive and always encouraged me to follow my passion and have my own business. We started sending students abroad to study in several different countries. We offered many types of programs but the High School program always had a special place in my heart. As business started to grow and we started opening several offices throughout Brazil, I decided it was time for me to focus on what I was most passionate about, the high school program.
I moved to the USA in the beginning of 2010 and started ExchangeMate USA to operate our own High School program in Orlando, FL. In the beginning it was very challenging because when you are starting a program from scratch, especially in another country where you don’t know anyone and have no connections, things take time. I was anxious and frustrated at times but I knew I was on the right path and I always believed that I could do something great because my heart was in the right place. With that in mind, I started building relationship with the schools I wanted to send students to and started recruiting families to host our students. It took me about a year to put everything together and start receiving the first group of students from Brazil. After that I started attending ICEF as a service provider, as I had attended before as an agent, and started developing relationships with agents from other countries and our program started to grow. We started receiving students from many different countries and we expanded our program to other states in the USA as well.
In 2015 I opened a second company called StayMate USA to provide Homestay services to the local English schools and colleges in Orlando. In 2016 I separated from my company in Brazil and continued running the companies in the US. Today both ExchangeMate USA and StayMate USA are well established and growing more and more every year. I know that there is still a lot more work to be done and a lot more lessons to be learned but I’m confident that we are on the right path. I consider myself very blessed for everything I have accomplished in my professional life. This is a wonderful industry to be a part of and I’m very lucky to be able to do something I really love. Our ultimate goal is to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and to provide them with the necessary tools to create their own successful experiences.
What helped you get as far as you have?
I believe there are three essential things you must have in order to get anywhere you want: support, purpose and relationships.
On my case I think having the support of my family and knowing that they always believed I could do this has always given me the strength to keep going even when things did not turn out the way I expected. It’s important to have a good support system when you are out there trying to accomplish something new. It can be your family, friends, co-workers, industry peers… just make sure you surround yourself with positive people who will support you and inspire you during this journey.
You must always keep true to yourself and know exactly why you are doing this and where you want to get. Having the right mindset and knowing why you are doing what you are doing is the key to continue working hard to achieve the results you want.
Last but not least, you must cultivate relationships and truly care about your students, your host families, your team members, your community, your agents and everyone around you. Everyone plays an important role in this process and you need to acknowledge and appreciate that.
I have met some amazing people in this industry and have had great role models in my life who have inspired me to be who I am today. I’m very thankful for everyone who has been part of this journey with me and for everything that I’ve learned in this process. Even though there were tough times I can say without a doubt that it was all worth it.
What piece of advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Follow your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. Keep your mind and your heart on your goals and do not settle for less. Surround yourself with the right people, believe in what you are doing and have a clear understanding of why you are doing it. Don’t live your life based on what others think it should be, we all have our own missions to accomplish and we all have something greater to achieve. Worrying about what other people think often gets in the way. Confidence is powerful, so be confident and pursue your passion in life. As long as you stay true to yourself, your beliefs and you work hard for it no one can stop you!
Can you tell us about a particular low point in your life/and or career and how you overcame it?
I think the early stage of any business is hard. Financial resources are limited and the uncertainty of whether this is going to work can be very overwhelming. I went through that in the beginning when I started the business in Brazil, then again when I moved to the USA but I think the most challenging moment of my career was during my pregnancy.
I got married in 2014 and got pregnant with twin boys. I’ve always loved kids and wanted to have a family but I didn’t know it was going to happen so fast. It was a hard adjustment for me because I was 100% focused on my business and there were so many great things happening and all of the sudden I did not have the same energy and focus anymore. That’s when my husband joined me in the company. He was working with immigration at the time and he started to help me with the management of the company and our team.
The first few months after I had the babies were even harder because they demanded a lot of attention and care and it was almost impossible to be a mom and run a business at the same time. My husband took over a lot of my responsibilities in the company during this time and helped me keep things running. I came back slowly after a couple of months and we divided our roles in the company, added new programs that he started to run and continued to grow.
I think motherhood is always a challenging moment in every woman’s career. It’s not easy to find that balance between work and your kids and family and no matter what you do you always feel that you are not doing enough. I’m still learning how to separate both roles, and how to be 100% focused on my business when I’m at the office and 100% focused on my family when I get home. It’s a learning process and the more you practice the better you get at it. I’m very grateful for my husband’s support and for having him as my business partner as we make a great team and are on to achieving great things together!
One word to describe yourself?
What are you most proud of in your professional life?
I’m proud of our students and to see how much they grow during the semester or year they are here with us. It’s very rewarding to see their accomplishments and to know that we have contributed to it somehow. I’m proud of having such dedicated and caring team members and host families who will go out of their way to make sure our students are well taken care of. I’m proud of having a wonderful group of schools in our program that have embraced our vision and work hard to help our students achieve their maximum potential. I’m proud of having developed a network of amazing and supportive agents around the world who have trusted us to care for their students.
Your first paying job: What and when?
I was about 14 years old. My mother used to own a store and my sisters and I would help her on weekends and holidays when we were off school. I’ve always enjoyed working with people so it was a lot of fun!
What do you do to keep yourself centered?
I try to spend quality time with my family as much as possible as they are the fuel that keeps me going. I also like to read motivational and business related books. It helps to keep me motivated and inspired and to think of how I can do better in both my personal life and my business. I also love to watch Friends. Yes, I know it’s an old show and I probably know all the lines by now but it still puts a smile on my face every time I watch it.
What’s your favourite quote?
There are several quotes that I like but this one is one of my top favorites:
You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching, love like you'll never be hurt, sing like there's nobody listening, and live like it's heaven on earth.
– William W. Purkey
We only have one life to live so let’s make the most out of it!
What would your superpower be?
Stop time! It would be wonderful to be able to stop time when I’m playing with my kids, spending time with my husband, catching up with my friends and family, getting ready to go out (I always need more time for that!) or just getting some extra hours of sleep... It would also be great to have a few extra hours to finish a project or answer all my emails on a busy day.