As a kid in Brazil, Vítor was always surrounded by American culture. Most of the movies, TV series, cartoons, comics and games he enjoyed were produced by English speaking countries. When he was 14, he became interested in software development and realized that most of the related terminology and coding were in English. Once he defined his career interests in computer engineering, he knew he had to be fluent in English. He felt that the only way to achieve fluency was by being exposed to an environment that required him to speak English. That’s why he decided to study abroad and, in his second year of undergraduate studies, applied for a government scholarship program in his country, Ciência Sem Fronteiras (Science Without Borders). He had to choose the country where he wanted to study and three preferred universities within that country. The program offered a full scholarship to study the language of the country of choice for six months, and then spend one year as a visiting student at a university there. “I chose the U.S.A. because it is one of the most advanced countries in computer engineering. Since Rice University was ranked among the best universities in my area of study and it is a prestigious institution, I chose it as one of the three preferred schools. I was thrilled when I received my letter of acceptance!”
Vítor (fifth from the left) with the Ciência Sem Fronteiras group in front of Rice’s iconic Lovett Hall
That’s how three years ago, Vítor started in level 5 of our 6-level Intensive English Program. The program helped him improve his writing and speaking skills, which have proven essential to his success as a software engineer and an entrepreneur. After completing our core program, he went on to take Advanced Level courses. The Oral Presentation class was particularly helpful for Vítor, since it required him to do more advanced and elaborate presentations every day, which elevated his language proficiency to a much higher level. It was at this point that he noticed he was thinking in English, as opposed to thinking in Portuguese and then translating before speaking. When he completed the Intensive English Program, Vítor was not automatically admitted into the Rice University Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. He had to take the TOEFL, a test of English proficiency, and he passed with flying colors. So he spent a year as an exchange student in that department, during which he took classes with renowned professors and had the opportunity to work collaboratively on various hands-on projects. At the end of his exchange program, he was encouraged to seek internship opportunities. During a career fair hosted by Rice University, he was invited for an interview with Alert Logic, a cloud security provider, for an internship as a software engineer. After a few weeks of eager expectation, he was selected for the position. “I accomplished a goal that I wasn’t expecting to accomplish; I took my first steps towards my career path as an engineer.”
Vítor (third from the left) with two of his Brazilian classmates in Space Center Houston (NASA)
Before deciding to participate in the exchange program, Vítor wasn’t sure if the experience would be worth delaying his graduation one year and a half. “I didn’t know how much I would benefit from this experience at the time. If you have the same doubts I had, I would advise you to just go for it. Studying English at Rice isn’t just about learning English, which of course you will; it is an experience that changes you deeply. You will interact with people from all over the world with different backgrounds and views and engage in conversations about politics, religion and cultural differences. You are going to make lifelong friends from several countries and open a new range of opportunities for your career at the same time.” Vítor was impressed by Houston’s size and diversity. He very much enjoyed the wealth of choices of restaurants, coffee shops, museums, theaters and various cultural activities that gave him a taste of the American and Texan cultures, but also allowed him to savor cultures from all over the world. The low student-teacher ratio allowed for a closer relationship with teachers, who didn’t skimp on tips for living in the U.S.
Today, Vítor is working as a remote contractor for Alert Logic, the very same company that offered him an internship a year ago, and finishing his computer engineering degree at the same time. Between work and study, he somehow found the time to launch a startup company! Before coming to the U.S. to study, he and his classmates had founded Redware, a provider of website hosting and email solutions. Once he was back in Brazil, the young founders changed the company’s mission to respond to their clients’ needs for an innovative way of measuring employee satisfaction. They are currently developing a software tool to help organizations monitor how their employees are feeling on a daily basis, which in turn impacts productivity. They officially opened their office last year. Eventually, Vítor would like to complete an MBA in Project Management. Besides his professional plans and aspirations, he would also like to learn other languages. He already started learning Japanese and would like to study French next.
Author: Milagros Lugo-Amador, Assistant Director