Caio Rodrigues and Ada Baanrud left their homes in Brazil and Norway to find family, friendship and education thousands of miles away in Michigan’s Blue Water Area.
Rodrigues grew up in cities across Brazil, from Recife and Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo and Manaus, where his parents and younger brother now live. With ambition to learn the English language, he decided to come to the United States for his senior year of high school through an exchange program with CETUSA.
“My parents always wanted me to come to the U.S. — they knew what it would mean for me,” Rodrigues said.
He arrived at Port Huron High School in August 2017, staying first with the Lowe family and moving in with his current host family, the Santillanos, a few months later. Adjusting to life as an American high school student in a small town came with challenges, but Rodrigues knew it was where he needed to be.
“In Brazil I always lived in big cities, so Port Huron was new for me,” he said. “I spoke very little English when I arrived. I was worried that I would never learn, but I knew I just had to wake up in the morning and get back at it.”
As his senior year at PHHS went on, Rodrigues’ English steadily improved. He even started learning Spanish at home with help from the Santillanos, complementing his native Portuguese to help him develop multilingual skills.
When the time came to think about life after high school, like many students, he sought guidance from family. Rodrigues’ mom and brother made a surprise visit to watch him receive his high school diploma. During their stay, they decided to check out St. Clair County Community College.
“My host mom talked to us about how nice it would be to stay in Port Huron, where I already had a support system and wouldn’t have to start all over again,” Rodrigues said. “Then my mom and I went to SC4, and after speaking with [international student specialist] Bonnie Romzek, I decided to stay here.”
As Rodrigues explains, the college’s new student housing was a major factor in his decision to stay in town. He started at SC4 in August 2018 as one of the first students to move in to SC4’s residence hall, The Dock.
“I love living here,” Rodrigues said. “My roommate has been so nice and helpful, and it’s given me the chance to connect with different people. Everyone wants to learn about me, my life and my background — it’s really nice. It’s also great being right downtown and just steps away from the movie theater.”
In his second semester at SC4, Rodrigues is thriving as he pursues his associate degree in general studies and settles into his first job at the college’s bookstore. “I took it slow the first semester, but now I’m trying to expand, network and put myself out there,” he said.
After earning his degree, Rodrigues hopes to further his education and start a career as a film director.
While everything about the region was new to Rodrigues, Ada Baanrud already knew it was where she wanted to be — 40 years ago, her mother was part of a Norwegian student exchange program that brought her to Croswell, Michigan.
“It was an incredible experience for her, and that always made me want to do it,” Baanrud said. “When I applied for my exchange program, I asked to be placed close to Croswell.”
Baanrud came to the country in 2016 to complete her senior year at Port Huron Northern High School. She quickly became close with her host family, the Olsens, who live in the city and have hosted other exchange students over the years.
“I’m used to being by the water growing up by the Oslofjord in Norway, so I really love being in Port Huron,” Baanrud said. “I love hanging downtown at the restaurants and cafes, boating in the summer and just being part of this community.”
Baanrud has built lasting connections during her time in the region, traveling the country with the Olsens and even reconnecting with her mother’s host parents in Croswell, whom she affectionately refers to as “grandma and grandpa.”
After graduating from PHN, Baanrud went back to Norway for a year, only to return last summer to prepare for fall classes at SC4.
“I knew I wanted to go to college in the U.S., and my host parents were excited to welcome me back, so starting out at SC4 just made a lot of sense,” she said. “The campus is clean and beautiful, walkable and convenient. I thought when I first came here I would have a hard time adjusting, but I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Baanrud is trying to earn as many affordable credits as possible before transferring to Western Michigan University next fall, where she’s earned a scholarship to study marketing and international business. She hopes to use her multilingual skills in French, Norwegian and English to find a career in the corporate world or diplomacy.
With their different backgrounds and experiences, Rodrigues and Baanrud appreciate the support they’ve received at SC4.
“Bonnie Romzek and [SC4 registrar] Carrie Bearss have helped me navigate challenging processes like getting my license and setting up my classes,” Baanrud said. “And my instructors provide such a personalized classroom experience. They’re approachable and you know they care about your success.”
Rodrigues notes that patient professors and student support services like the Writing Center have been invaluable.
“I know I can talk to my instructors at any time. They understand the language barrier and they’re always willing to work with me,” he said. “I’ve also enjoyed the Writing Center. It’s been a great place to get help with my homework, brush up on my grammar and even get a stronger grasp on the English language.”
Students come from all walks of life to study at SC4, finding community and a sense of belonging in a unique setting — one that’s become home for two students crossing continents on their paths to success.