In honor of our 15th anniversary in 2017, Spirit Cultural Exchange launched its first Alumni Awards contest in August. Our goal was to identify and publicize former participants who have gone on to do significant things in their home countries and are/were particularly motivated by their SWT experience.
We received over 90 applications from past participants that have done great things since returning to their home countries. We got a variety of applicants… we heard from participants that now work for the government in their home country, some who became entrepreneurs and others who use their language skills to teach others English. But the one thing they all had in common was the impact the Summer Work and Travel experience had on their future.
After much consideration, we narrowed down our search and selected 11 finalists that we thought best exemplified the impact that the SWT program could have on an individual.
Meet finalist Marcos Costa Valadares! He came from Brazil through the agency, Central do Estudante, to spend his summer in Vermont. His time in the US impacted his decision to become an entrepreneur, founding two Biotech companies. Read on to learn more about his inspiring journey!
Can you tell us more about your SWT experience in the US?
I had the opportunity to go to the city called Manchester Village. I was hired to be a bellman in Equinox Resort and Spa Hotel in Vermont. It was a great experience to go over there and experience this position as a bellman. I had the opportunity to engage in conversation and discussions with the guests. My job there was to take people from their cars to their hotel rooms, and park their cars. Throughout this whole time I had the opportunity to meet many people with different experiences and start conversation with them, talk a little bit about Brazil, and where I came from and what I was doing. This gave me the opportunity to develop skills dealing with people, to be kind, and overcome difficulties with the people that are dealing with the hotel personnel staff.
At the moment I’m dealing with people in my own company and with customers overseas. So everything that I learned during this period, I’m trying to apply at my own professional experience here in Brazil.
Can you tell us about an experience you had or a person you met in the US that made an impression on you?
My boss, Tracey, gave me a lot of tips on how to deal with these people. Since we are serving people, we always needed to smile and treat people nicely. When we are working with people it’s very important for us to think about how people are feeling, what we are doing, what we are saying, or what impression we give people. He helped me with this.
Can you tell me how your J-1 experience changed your perspective on the US and its people?
I had the opportunity to engage in more deep connections with the people of the US before my J-1 visa. I went as a high school exchange student and I stayed in El Paso, Texas for a whole year with a host family. When I had this opportunity of being an exchange student, I already notice the differences and similarities we have as people. I already had a very good impression as my host family was amazing. They did everything they could to help me out, to give me the best American experience, to show me around, and they traveled with me when they could.
When I went there on the J1 program as an employee, it just confirmed everything I already thought. I experienced some different aspects of being employed by someone else and everyone treated me very nicely. I never had any kind of experience where people didn’t treat me nicely; my thoughts about the American people are the best.
One difference I noticed was cultural. Brazilian people are very touchy, they kiss a lot, they hug a lot, and they are very outgoing and talkative. American people are more reserved in that sense and it’s cultural.
I’m actually in love with what I do – I’m a biologist and I have a PhD in human genetics and stem cell biology. Before finishing my PhD, I really wanted to put the knowledge I was presented to good use. Here in Brazil it is a new thing to be an entrepreneur. The US has more of an entrepreneurial spirit. When I had the opportunity, I took advantage of this and we opened the first company, PluriCell, which deals with stem cell biology. We differentiate stem cells into heart cells and we use these cells to make in vitro studies. We use these studies to develop new drugs and we offer this to pharmaceutical companies and universities.
One year after we founded PluriCell, I cofounded GeneSeq with different partners. We offer genetic tests for rare diseases, cancers, and also some diseases that are not known yet to have a genetic cause but could. We are trying to develop new DNA sequencing tubes and applications for this genetic feud but this is very preliminary still. So basically we’re offering regular genetic tests to different medical applications.
What are your goals for the future of the company?
I truly believe Brazil needs to learn from this entrepreneurial spirit we see everywhere. I think we have a lot to learn by looking into how people actually do stuff outside of Brazil. And I think Brazil can learn from that. I wish through the companies we have created we are able to inspire people to create their own companies and reach our nation with their knowledge and work. I wish they can hire people, so they have more opportunities.
How do you think skills you learned on the J-1 program can translate into what you’re doing today?
Since we’re dealing with technology that is exploding in different parts of the world, one thing we have to do is to engage in commercial interactions and partnerships around the world. Because of the program, I have a grasp of the English language and skills to deal with people and conversation. The things I apply what I learned at the Equinox Resort and Spa Hotel all the time. Every time we are dealing with a partnership that have people from Italy, United States, and Germany; we have to sit down for a Skype conversation to do this. When we go to a meeting, conference, or workshop and we have to make a partnership work or make a sale, I try to remember how to deal with people, how to be nice, how to always have a smile on my face, and have a good connection.
I hope to carry on this throughout my entire life!
Why do you think cross-cultural exchange is important?
I believe that makes us understand that the world is not big, in the sense that it’s unreachable. Actually the world is small and we can go anywhere. You can meet the people you want and you can have new experiences but you just have to be open for that. The J-1 experiences are great because of that. You can actually reach places sometime in the past that would be unreachable. That’s very rare!
I remember my dad had the experience to go to the US when he was in high school and after he had that experience, he said he would try to make his kids have the same experience. I understand that these kinds of programs are very important to make the world a place that is reachable to everyone and so that others can have their own experience.
It’s been awhile since you came to the US on your SWT program. What would you tell yourself before coming to the US on these programs if you could go back in time?
One thing I would tell myself is to not hesitate on having any new experiences you can. If you can work, please work and find someone who needs your work and find a relationship with them. If you want to join a football program, go there and try to learn football. Try to learn everything you are not able to do in your home country. I believe that is the rich part of going abroad – you can access new things and grow.
Don’t be exactly what you would be at home; do something different. Be something different, improve on other people, and let other people improve on you.