In the small town of Passira in the countryside of Pernambuco, Brazil, Alfredo Neto was pondering the next moves in his educational journey. “It is such a small town that we don’t have places such as malls and movie theaters, so people here gather in the main square,” Alfredo said. “But we also don’t have places for language learning and my parents couldn't afford to give me private language classes, but even if they could the nearest one was 30 minutes away in another town.” Alfredo recognized both the importance of having access to these types of classes and the significance of his entire town’s students being locked out of this opportunity. “Ever since I was a little kid I knew that learning a new language would open many doors for me, so I started to learn English with the little resources I had such as using the public library, where I would spend nights learning English. With that knowledge, Alfredo then applied to a state program that provides full scholarships to high school students to spend a semester in English-speaking high schools like the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and England. To gain a spot in the Win the World Program, he had to take a lot of tests and compete against kids from all over the state, but he was one of the awardees and got to go to spend a semester in Tampa Bay, Florida. “It was a mind blowing experience from the start because it was my first time having ever been on an airplane,” Alfredo said. “I felt all the time like I was in a movie that I used to watch when I was younger around all these American students and the yellow school buses.” He also began to notice problems, though, such as vast income inequality. “On arriving to The United States, I faced the challenge of reconciling the stark social differences between my new environment and the place I had come from. At Lennard High School in Florida, students traveled abroad during vacation and parked expensive cars in their own parking lot. In Brazil, I walked everyday to get to school.” Once he went back to Brazil for his last year of high school and people noticed the vast experiences and accolades Alfredo had collected, they started pushing him to leave Brazil to get a good college education and make something of himself. But Alfredo was conflicted, feeling that it would be selfish to only be worrying about himself and go on to higher education without sharing the wealth of knowledge he now possessed. “I came back from the United States with this strong sense that I had a social responsibility to my community,” Alfredo said, “so when people were pushing me to go straight into college after school, I was like, ‘Well no, that is not something I want to do right now, actually.’ There are so many talented people in my community, but they are missing out on big opportunities, like LALA, but they don’t know any English and are missing out on them, and I knew I wanted to give back the knowledge and experience I learned in the United States and help them.”
Caving into the pressure, he applied for and was accepted into the Opportunity Funds Program which provides assistance and support to apply for American universities. Despite putting admittedly minimal effort into his application, he was accepted, and eventually accepted into various colleges in the United States, but he knew something did not feel right, and that maybe he was not in the right place. “I started having anxiety attacks and just feeling out of place, and that used to be very hard for me to admit, but now I can talk about it freely because it led me to this self-knowledge, spirituality, and exploration journey that I have embarked on ever since, and I now understand my mission and purpose a lot more and it has nothing to do with what society was expecting me to do,” Alfredo said. He wanted to enable others to have the opportunities he had, and founded the Will to Learn Languages Project in his community, eventually even getting the support of his mayor as he taught students who also could not afford language classes like him. But as some students started giving up, he realized many of the students were like him and suffering from anxiety, lack of confidence, and feeling out of place like Alfredo had when he was studying in Florida. “It was a tough time, but it also let me explore more of myself, so I related a lot to my students and I talked with my team about incorporating social emotional learning and self knowledge into our teachings,” Alfredo said. “Through this they started reflecting even more on what they really wanted to do, and separating that from what society expected them or wanted them to do.” Alfredo decided to forget college for now and continue on the path he has chosen to uplift his community. He will be a part of the Academy 2020 cohort in an effort to advance his leadership abilities and further improve his company’s functioning in the hopes of further improving the lives and possibilities of those around him back home in Passira and beyond.