I had no idea all this was going to happen. You always have to have a goal, but don’t overthink it. Take opportunities, don’t let them go. If it’s there, it’s because it was meant to be. If it doesn’t work, than at least you tried. If I didn’t take a chance I would still be in Brazil, and I am so happy now.” - Nanda Oliveira
Everyone has a story. On Sunday, I tell yours. Courage, hope, inspiration. One woman needed to harness all of it, just to make it in America.
The Sunday Series (22): The Language of Love
October 17th, 2005 Nanda Oliveira left Brazil and found her new world. Arriving in New York City at the age of 24, and as part of an au pair program, Nanda was thrust into a melting pot with other women from all over the world, all speaking different languages, all with one goal in mind, to make it in America. Everyone’s story and reason for coming to the U.S. is different. For Nanda, the reason was family. She wanted to make her parents proud, and to give them a reason to believe, a reason for their hearts to smile again…because not so long ago, hearts were broken.
At the tender age of 15, Nanda’s sister, Renata was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Over the next ten years Renata fought a courageous battle, but by the time she passed away at the age of 25, she was paralyzed and blind. But Renata left a legacy. Just four years earlier, despite being told she would die during delivery and her child would be born with serious health problems, Renata gave birth to a baby boy named Lucas. Nanda says the entire pregnancy and birth of her nephew was a miracle. It would be the first of many to come. For Nanda and her parents losing Renata was devastating, Nanda says her sister was her “best friend.” So a little more than a year later, still stinging from the loss of her best friend, but a desire for more, for a better life, Nanda announced to her family and her fiance’ she would enter the au pair program and head to America.
Saying it is one thing, living it is another, “making it” can seem impossible.
Upon her arrival in New York, language became and would remain the number one barrier in Nanda’s new world. She was paired with a French girl as part of the large group of girls who would be spending a week together in the Big Apple taking classes and learning the American system. Well, sort of learning. Nanda said the instructors were talking and teaching but she could barely understand. She was not alone. Nanda knew a few words of English, but that was it. She and her roommate also had no way to communicate, Nanda did not speak French, her roommate did not know Portuguese. The silence was deafening. The experience was frustrating. This failure to communicate was a sign of things to come.
The week in New York ended with Nanda heading to a family in Finksburg, Maryland to work as an au pair for the family’s only son. With only one child to care for, Nanda thought it would be an easy way to begin. But the experience did not go well. Nanda said when the boy would misbehave he would then lie to his parents and blame his actions on Nanda… who with no grasp of the English language, Nanda had no way to defend herself. Nanda was afraid to go out in public, for fear she might be asked questions she couldn’t understand. She lost a lot of weight because she barely ate. When home alone she couldn’t read the labels, she didn’t know how to operate the kitchen appliances and she was afraid she might eat something poisonous, or that would make her sick. Everything was so new and different than her life in Brazil, she felt scared, alone and spent too much time in her room crying because of her frustration and inability to communicate.
It was time for a change. A new family. Nanda got in touch with the American contact for the au pair agency to let her know the family was not a good match. Nanda was presented with two choices: a move to a family living in the bitter, cold, windy city of Chicago, or to Hampstead, Maryland, to a family with four children. Or… go back to Brazil, because her visa stated if she didn’t work, she couldn’t stay. The choices were daunting, Nanda hated the cold, yet she was barely surviving her experience dealing with just one child. How would she handle four of them? But in life sometimes you need to take the risk and a leap of faith. Nanda took a deep breath and took on the responsibility of helping raise four children in Hampstead.
This time the risk was worth it. The four children, ages 5, 7, 9 & 11 were a perfect fit, especially the youngest. Nanda had been learning a bit of English simply from what she saw on TV, heard on the radio, and from her own personal dictionary, but helping the youngest child with her homework was a huge bonus. At five years of age she was just learning to read and write. Nanda got the chance to learn the basics right along with her. “I am a very curious person, I ask a lot of questions”, says Nanda. “I like when people correct me because I want to learn.” Nanda was learning and growing, her new world was starting to turn just a bit faster. She even took up martial arts, eventually earning her black belt. But time was running out.
“My goal was to go back to Brazil in one year”, says Nanda. “My goal was never to stay here. I was going to learn English and go back. I was still engaged when I left Brazil and my plan was to return.” But plans change. After several months here, the engagement was off, the challenge of a long-distance love couldn’t survive the many, many miles in between. And Nanda had been offered a rare opportunity, one she couldn’t turn down because it was the chance of a lifetime. Nanda never wanted to just be an au pair. “I wanted to learn and be something more”, she says. The family, eager to keep Nanda as part of their world encouraged her to stay and offered to pay her way through college. The chance would change Nanda’s life. The family helped her switch from a work visa to a student visa and Nanda enrolled in the Community College of Baltimore County, taking the most basic of remedial classes and looked to earn a degree in business management. Things were going well, but soon her family told her they could no longer pay for her to go to school. Nanda could not afford college on her au pair salary and although the family offered her the chance to live with them as long as she liked, Nanda, now age 27, needed to find a way to stay in school… or the requirements of her student visa would force her back to Brazil.
Fortunately for Nanda, she had met a new man, Matt Grelli. The two had been dating for only six months, but when Nanda told Matt what was happening he asked her to come live with him, giving her his extra car and told her until she could find a new job, he would pay for school. The problem was Nanda, having grown up in Brazil, was “old school”. She worried what her family would think, moving in with a man she hadn’t known for that long. But her family, recognizing Nanda’s situation and the opportunity she was offered, gave her their blessing. Nanda says moving in with Matt was the “best decision ever.” He did everything he said he would. I took the chance and I won.”
Over the next year Nanda went to school and managed to secure a job as a nanny to earn extra money, but she wanted to help out not just with school, but also help her family back in Brazil, so she went looking for more and found it. With job experiences now under her belt she put her resume up online and got an e-mail from Aimee Fulchino. The two met and the opportunity to work as a nanny with the Fulchino family not only improved her bank account, but changed her life. For Nanda, the Fulchino’s were the moon and the stars, introducing her to a life and lifestyle she had never seen before. She could now afford to help her family in Brazil, and she was meeting smart business people, true professionals. Nanda says the Fulchino family also taught her maybe the most important lesson of all. She says they “have a lot and they give a lot, they are so generous.” It’s a life lesson in gratitude Nanda still lives today.
Aimee also offered Nanda the chance to work at the brand new studio she was opening called Barre. Nanda first worked at the counter, but Aimee soon offered her the chance to train to be an instructor and start teaching classes. Nanda said it was intimidating, as had many experiences since she arrived in America, because of the challenge with language. How could she instruct others without a comfortable command of English? But like everything else she has attempted and with the encouragement and help of so many, Nanda faced her fears, and it worked.
In life the dream of what you want and the reality of what you must do to get it can be daunting. For Nanda her life has become so much more, not just because of her ability to overcome the challenges in front of her, but also because of the support of so many who have come to her aid. It truly is a story of the courage of a young lady and the kindness of strangers, who become friends and then family. And Nanda has turned her greatest adversity into her advantage. Learning a second language has become one of her greatest assets. Want proof? Not 24 hours after I interviewed Nanda, I came across this excerpt from the book I am currently reading, The 4 Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss: “The benefits of becoming fluent in a foreign tongue are as underestimated as the difficulty is overestimated. Gain a language and you gain a second lens through which to question and understand the world. Don’t miss the chance to double your life experience.”
Nanda has doubled down. For so many who take a shot and come to America, it can be easy to get caught between the moon and New York City. Having a dream and making that dream a reality takes hard work and the attitude to never give up. Nanda Oliverira has done just that. In less than a decade she has handled challenge after challenge, learning her way through a new life in America and starting a new family with Matt. Just last May the couple welcomed their son, Aiden, into the world.
And Nanda never forgets. She says it was her sister who taught her how to fight. “She fought for her life for ten years”, says Nanda. “She and we did everything we could to keep her alive. But if she was here today she would say I did all I could to fight, and I’m glad I tried. One day you are here, the next you are not. But you must take advantage of the opportunities you are given.”
To hear her tell her story you quickly realize that through her journey Nanda has learned not just two languages, but three: Portuguese, English…and the language of love.
Congratulations Nanda. Parabéns.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
Mark Brodinsky, Author
It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
#1 Amazon Best-Seller
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