It’s not easy being away from home for the first time. And that’s even more true when you’re in a place known for its cold and snow, and home is a balmy 77 degrees — and more than 5,000 miles away.
Micheli Dubien first came to Colorado from Brazil to learn English as part of a worker exchange program. But her time here was anything but easy. Living accommodations were expensive and crowded. When Micheli first came to the U.S., she lived with 11 people. Those who couldn’t find rides to their jobs hitchhiked.
Today, Micheli and her husband, Josh, own the Main Street Restaurant. She volunteers her time to help visiting Brazilians find proper housing, provides transportation, takes groups to the supermarket and provides other support — things crucial to living in a foreign country.
“Why wouldn’t I, right?” Micheli asks. “I’m from Brazil and I live here, we just started our own business, I’m not going anywhere ... I can do that, no problem, it’s just fun for me.”
Eight years ago, a Brazilian travel agency advertising jobs in the United States caught her eye. She was going to school for tourism and travel. She was paying for English classes, but she wanted to learn the language firsthand.
“I was interested because I figured I needed English in my life to get a better job in Brazil, so I thought it was a good idea,” Micheli said.
When she arrived in the U.S., she quickly found there was no one to help her, or other Brazilians, with simple things natives take for granted — such as where to shop for food, or even what to buy and how to use the currency.
Now, using the online social network Orkut.com, she talks with perspective travelers and English-language students about what to expect and answers questions about the local economy and weather.
”When I’m home on the Internet and they ask me all these questions and then they tell everybody else, it’s not really hard for me. I like to hear from them. I’m Brazilian; they speak my language,” she said. “I like to spend time with them … it’s not hard work for me to tell them what to get at the grocery store … this is totally different (for them). They don’t want hamburgers every day.”
Last Saturday evening, with her husband cooking in the back, she greeted a long line of Brazilians as they came in from the cold to the sounds of Brazilian music. The restaurant filled with the sound of easy laughter and new friends as Micheli brought out plates of feijoada, a black bean and meat stew that is the national dish of Brazil.
Sergeo Scianen, 19, and Bruno Pontes, 21, sit at a table waiting for some of their friends to return to Idaho Springs from working in Loveland.
Both, recent arrivals to the mountains, are happy to talk about how Micheli has helped them adjust to their temporary home.
“It’s very good (to know Micheli) because we have never come to another country,” said Pontes, a college student in Brazil studying naval engineering. “Before I come, we didn’t know what we would see here; in my case, I didn’t have anything like housing — I would have arrived here without anything.”
Micheli said she also benefits from helping the visitors during their four months in Idaho Springs.
“It reminds me of myself and brings me back to who I used to be,” she said. “I’m doing this also because (of) my daughter — I like her to have part of the (Brazilian) culture.”
Josh comes up from the kitchen, taking a short break.
“I think it is really nice Micheli is helping all these guys out,” he said. “(They’re) going through the same thing she went through when she first came here, and it’s kind of like a little bit of home for them.”