Mercia Tomme had a good secretary job, she saw her relatives nearly every weekend, and her son, Eduardo, was able to grow up close to his cousins and family. If it weren't for her American husband, whom she met over the Internet, she probably would have never left Brazil to move to the U.S.
After six months of web rendezvous, Rick Tomme came down to Natal, a city in Rio Grande do Norte, to meet Mercia. 15 days later he proposed and a month after that they married.
He moved down to Brazil and held a job as an English teacher at a private school, but it wasn't long before they realized that his job wasn't making enough money. So they decided to move to Cedar Hill, Texas.
"Oh my gosh," said Mercia Tomme. "It's like night and day. When I moved to the U.S. it was like I moved to another planet."
Tomme went from having family gatherings once a week to seeing her husband's family twice a year, Thanksgiving and Christmas. To her, it was a huge culture difference not to spend time with family. On top of this, her son didn't speak English, while her new husband didn't speak Portuguese or Spanish.
"The first year, I cried the whole year," said Tomme. "I was feeling lonely. Missing my family, missing my country."
Although Tomme had a private English tutor as a teenager and had a degree from Brazil in Liberal Arts to teach English, the thought of having her son deal with the struggles of being an ESL student scared her.
They arrived in July of 2002, only a month before the school year started. Since the school year in Brazil is from March to December, Eduardo had already gone through three months of his fifth grade year, but, being absorbed in soccer more than his studies, his grades weren't very good. So Mercia and Rick decided to put Eduardo in the ESL program and keep him in the fifth grade.
"The first day of school in Cedar Hill, oh my God, I will never forget that," said Tomme. "It was so hard for me. I wanted to stay there with him, but I couldn't!"
Much to Tomme's surprise, however, Eduardo picked up English pretty quick. After the first three months, he was mixing Portuguese and English until soon she could see him becoming fluent. On top of this, his grades were quickly reaching their potential.
"I was so amazed, you know, with what that ESL teacher did for him," said Tomme. "That really impressed me so much that made me decide that I want to do the same thing for the other kids."
Since Tomme was a little girl she wanted to be a teacher, but she never really had the opportunity in Brazil. As a divorced single mother and an ex-husband that didn't help, being a secretary had been her best option. It paid more than a teacher's salary.
"When we were playing, you know when kids play, I always wanted to be the teacher and be teaching and always pretend that I have a classroom," Tomme said, letting out a burst of laughter.
When she moved to the states, things were different. To begin with, she wasn't working. Rick Tomme, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, started working as a Junior ROTC instructor at Cedar Hill High School and was making enough money to support the family on his own.
"I was by myself, no friends, no family, Rick and Eduardo at school all day long," said Tomme. "I was going crazy. So I told him [Rick] I had to do something."
Tomme decided to go back to school and pursue a dream that she had been harvesting in her mind since she was little.
At first it started slow. She took classes at Mountain View College in Dallas gradually earning her certification in ESL education, while doing substitute teaching on the side. When she finished she began her first teaching job at Faith Family Academy Charter in Dallas, Texas as a Pre-K4 teacher.
It was nice to be working again, but being a Pre-K teacher was not exactly what Tomme had in mind. At the end of the year, Molly Savage, the Assistant Superintendant for Human Resources and Special Programs at Faith Family Academy Charter, asked Tomme if she wanted to come back the following year.
"I said, 'Well I do, but I want an ESL job. I really want to help ESL students,'" Tomme had responded.
In the end, Tomme was given an ESL position for the following year and she took it. This was in 2006. Four years later, she still works at Faith Family.
"I went through the same things that they went through being an ESL student and most of all being the mother of an ESL student," said Tomme. "So I know what the kids are going through, what the parents are going through."
As her son Eduardo grew up and attended school in Cedar Hill, Tomme could see that America wasn't just different because Americans didn't spend time with family every week like she did in Brazil.
"I had problems with Eduardo when he was in sixth or seventh grade," Tomme said.
Among other things that happened those couple of years, there was an instance where he heard some of the African-American students call each other 'nigger.' He began to do the same, not realizing his error.
"Oh God it was terrible," said Tomme. "So the teacher called and, 'Hey, he used the 'n-word.''"
In Brazil, these types of issues never confronted Tomme and her son.
"Over there, it does not matter what color you are," said Tomme. "We are all friends, and we all respect each other, we accept each other. There's none of this segregation."
Eduardo didn't know there was a problem. It was a culture thing, explained Tomme. In her classes, she uses this experience to help her students make the transition of living in a new country.
"We need to show them how things work here, how things are different here, what is acceptable, what is not acceptable," said Tomme. "Because they'll do it just because they do not know if we don't teach them."
Sharing her experiences doesn't stop at helping them adjust to a new place, though. It goes farther. She saw her son struggle the same struggles as her students. And she felt the struggles that her students' parents struggle as they too adjust. But she also saw (and still sees) her son excel and succeed, while at the same time she sees herself living her childhood dream.
By the time Eduardo was in high school he was on the A-honor roll and all of his teachers had only good things to tell Tomme. The school's football coach had also recruited him as their kicker.
As a child, he played soccer in the house while his mother was at work all day. At the start of high school when it came to sports he still could only think of soccer. In response to his invitation to become a part of Cedar Hill High School football, he said he couldn't join because soccer practices were at the same time as football practices. This was okay though. The coach went on to say he didn't have to go to practices, just as long he was there for the Friday night games.
After that, Eduardo took what was given to him and ran with it. Mercia and Rick started taking him to kicking camps. He ranked as one of the top kickers in the country. ESPN interviewed him. The ESPN in Brazil translated the story into Portuguese. By his junior year at Cedar Hill, universities all over the country wanted him
"That was good for him and for us, you know, because we were so proud of him and also because he was doing so good at school," Tomme said.
In July of 2009, Eduardo committed to Arkansas on a full football scholarship.
Tomme uses her son's success as one of the many examples she uses to show her students that being an immigrant doesn't mean that you don't have the ability to do something great. It doesn't matter where you're from, what color you are, or what language you speak, Tomme teaches her students. In Brazil, a good education was something you paid for. Here, everything is free.
"If you are here and you really want to learn, you have the chance to do it," Tomme said.
Today, Mercia is a new citizen of the United States, having earned her certificate on July 30, and Eduardo is getting ready for his first football season with Arkansas in the fall of 2010.