ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
You may not find a more enthusiastic ambassador for Hillsboro or Kansas or even the United States than Luisa de Costa.
The Brazil native just completed a return visit to Hillsboro last week after an initial stay as an exchange student during the fall semester in 2002.
“I missed everybody so much, and I was waiting for a whole year to come back,” said the gregarious girl who will begin studying this month at a journalism college in her hometown of Belo Horazonte, which is near Rio de Janeiro.
In fact, Luisa said she talked her mother into letting her skip the first week of classes so she could make the trip.
“She really knows how much I love people here,” Luisa said.
Preparing for college was a key reason Luisa stayed as an exchange student at Hillsboro High School for only one semester instead of a full year.
“Our senior year is only a preparation for the ACT-but it’s not like the ACT here,” she said. “We take different ACTs for each college.
“You need to decide what you want to be before you go to college. So I’m going to a journalist’s college. For almost the whole year you study for the test. So I took the test and I got in. It was hard.”
Luisa said she kept in contact with many of her Hillsboro friends over the past year by e-mail and telephone. Deciding to come back for a personal visit wasn’t hard at all. Her mother gave her the airline tickets as a gift for doing well in school.
“I was so excited and so happy, I couldn’t believe I was coming back,” she said.
Luisa did feel some trepidation about coming back, though. Many of her friends who were seniors here last year had graduated and moved on to college.
“My first day I was kind of afraid, like how people would react,” she said. “I keep in touch with a lot of people, but there were people here I didn’t talk to for a year. I came back and wondered what they would think about me.
“On my first day I felt kind of out of place-but like 15 minutes later I was all right again.
“It was nice,” she added. “I made a lot of new friends here again. I hadn’t talked with a lot of juniors who are now seniors. I made friends with them, so I hung out with them, too. It was a good experience coming back.”
During her stay, Luisa spent one or two days a week at the high school.
“But I’m going only to PE (physical education) and art-classes where I can do something,” she said. “I didn’t think it made sense to go to classes where I would be only be sitting and listening.”
On days Luisa wasn’t in school, she would talk with her host families-the Kyle Cederbergs and Gary Andrews-and communicate with her friends in Brazil via e-mail…and also sleep in.
“Actually, I’m sleeping really late-like noon or 1 p.m.,” she said with a laugh.
Luisa said when she returned to Brazil after her stay as an exchange student, she was enthusiastic about her stay in small-town Hillsboro-even though most of her friends had no idea even where Kansas was, much less Hillsboro.
“I just love Hillsboro and I love Kansas,” she said. “People would ask me, ‘Kansas, where’s that?’ I would say, ‘It’s the best place.’
“When I hear other people are going (to the United States as exchange students), I’m so excited for them,” she added. “I think it was the best time of my life. “
Luisa said the student enrollment in her high school in Brazil is bigger than the entire population of Hillsboro. When she found would out she would be an exchange student here, she even had trouble finding information about the place.
“For me, it was scary when I checked the Internet because I was trying to find Hillsboro, Kan., and I didn’t find any site,” she said. “Finally, I found the high school site, so I started to look for things.
“It was kind of scary at first, but I love it,” she said. “There is good things and bad things (about small towns). But I try to look at the best side. It doesn’t bother me that there aren’t a lot of things here.”
Her advice to Hillsboro: “Keep this warm city.
“People here were just wonderful with me. They tried to help me and tried to show me everything. I had a relationship with all my friends and their parents and families. It was so great.
“I’m from another country and they could have been cold with me. But they weren’t. I think they learned how to like me and I learned how to love people here.”
“That’s the amazing thing about being an exchange student,” she added. “You come here and you make your life because nobody knows who you here. They could have hated me. So I tried to show myself and teach them how I am. At the beginning it was like, ‘She’s crazy,’ because I show my feelings and hug a lot.
“Now, it’s amazing how they come to me and hug me and say this to me. I think that’s one thing they learned from me.”
Luisa said she’s ready to come back Hillsboro again.
“I’m not going to state that I’m coming next year or in two years, because I don’t know what will happen,” she said. “I would like to come next year-but maybe in the summer. (Friends) would have more time for me and I would enjoy the outside better.
“I’m not coming in winter anymore. It’s too cold for me.”