Education is My Passport by Thâmara

Education has opened doors to me that would be impossible to open otherwise. Growing up in an underprivileged family where the culture was to do whatever manual work you could do to earn whatever possible money to eat and survive; I saw education as my passport to a better future. I knew I had to excel and be better than average at school as I had extremely limited financial resources and my single mum wasn’t able to pay for my studies. I always knew I wanted to have the opportunity to work in a big company, see the world from a different perspective and speak different languages. I knew it was up to me to decide which way to go and I chose education.

I was born in a small village in the Northeast part of Brazil where nothing happens. There were few public schools but up to the 8th grade so kids stop studying when they are 14 if you didn’t move out of the village. When I was about 5, my mum had to move to a bigger city (Rio de Janeiro) to try and earn more, so I stayed with my aunt and grandma for a few years. My aunt had 5 children and me in the house. It was a very humble house with exposed brick walls, curtains instead of doors, no bathroom inside the house. I moved to Rio with my mum when I was 10 as she had a stable job as a housekeeper and she used to live in the attached house, so we had where to live. I remember feeling like I was living a dream just because the house had painted walls, doors and bathroom inside. Also, I would be able to continue school and that was what mattered.

When I was about 14, I started thinking about college and what to apply for. I had two black teachers at school who were my role model. They gave me hope to live a better future as a young black girl. One of them suggested I looked into International Affairs as I really enjoyed history and sociology. I can’t remember if I had internet at home back then, but I remember looking it up and feeling that it was it!

Deep inside, I was scared of not making it. I was scared of not being smart enough and not being fluent enough in foreign languages. I then decided to study English on my own. My mum eventually was able to pay me an English course a few years later as I got a discount for my high grades at school.

Fast forward to 2016, I got into one of the best Universities in Brazil (the best Universities are public). I will never forget the day I got the results. I just couldn’t believe my name was on the list! I remember being with my mum in my room and reading my name a billion times to make sure I was seeing it right. We were both in tears!

In 2018 I got an internship at L’Oréal and again – I couldn’t believe it! This wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for my mentor, Vera, who helped me learn a lot about myself and helped me have a career path. I was so happy for having a job and for being closer to the life I have always imagined. It was a life-changing experience to me not only because being there represented that I made it but also because I met my then manager and she inspired me to be where I am today. It is thanks to her that I had the courage to apply for an exchange programme opportunity in France through my University (after applying a few months earlier and not getting it).

To my surprise, I got it this time! The first thought of “Wow, I am going to France”. I got the chance of living in a new country, to speak a new language, to study in a different place and have the experience of living abroad. Everything that I always wanted but didn’t have the money to do – and I still didn’t. I would need to pay for my visa, flight, accommodation, food, etc at least for the first months there until I had a part-time job there.

My plan A was to ask for my mum’s ex-boss who knew me well for a loan and I would pay them back when I had a job. They never replied to my email. For a second, I thought that was a silly idea and studying abroad was out of my league. 

A friend of mine suggested I created a crowd-funding campaign but I was a bit uncomfortable in sharing my story and exposing myself. At the same time, I had no other option. My mum and step-dad were unemployed, I was earning as an intern and I was already helping them to pay the rent and bills. So I decided to do it but it wasn’t easy. My friend Paola helped me write my story and record a video. I had to stop the video many times to wipe my tears. It was hard to talk about me and my life. Thankfully, I have amazing friends and people who supported me and I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who shared the link and donated me money - people who I knew well or not so well. I managed to fund my initial costs to come to France and I am here now. I have to pinch myself sometimes. I still get tears in my eyes when I remember of all the people wanting to help and support my dream. I can only say THANK YOU. It was a truly incredible experience and that’s why Education is my passport.