Action without excuse — I came across this Arabic saying a few years ago when I put my hands on a book that told the stories of notable Brazilian plastic surgeons. At the moment, I was puzzled and did not understand what it really meant. After all, weren’t we taught that all of our actions must be connected to an ultimate goal?
As I read the chapter I started comprehending the essence of the saying. It simply meant we had to work diligently on the task at hand, constantly striving to do our best. There were two advantages of following this principle: We can end up going far beyond where we initially expected to go and avoid the frustration of being unable to attain a particular objective.
Eventually, this saying became my motto. As a student, I always tried to do my best in every situation. I believe my time at Eastern has proven that.
I ended up in Kentucky by pure chance. I was born and raised in Brazil and when I was in my late teens I already knew I wanted to study abroad. Many of my fellow musicians were already in the U.S., and the perspectives of a good education in music in my home country were not particularly exciting. The opportunity to leave Brazil appeared when Dr. Bernardo Scarambone, assistant music professor at Eastern and my current piano teacher, came to perform in my hometown Recife. He posted an announcement on a website regarding scholarships to study in the U.S. I contacted him shortly afterwards and was soon trying to get all the paperwork ready for the trip. At the time, however, he taught at another institution.
One day I got a call from him saying “I am going to Kentucky. Are you coming with me?”
A few days later I applied to the music program at Eastern, and you might be able to guess what happened next.
When talking about international students, cultural shock is one of the first things to come to mind. People tend to naturally focus on the major aspects: The difficulty with the language, the different social habits and the lack of sense of belonging. I did not experience any of these issues due to my introspective nature and my English proficiency.
This was not the case with two other areas.
The first one was food. I was mentally prepared for all the fat, salt and grease but what I found here surpassed my imagination. Peanut butter, biscuits, cookies … every day I tried something I had never had before.
I didn’t do that because I liked it, I just did it to try something new (I really don’t enjoy peanut butter, biscuits are OK, but cookies are great). And the cultural shock was not that terrible, after all we have pizza and bananas in Brazil.
The second obstacle I encountered was being a foreigner. Many simple things for most Americans, like getting a driver’s license, involved time-consuming procedures for noncitizens. Besides that, I had to do everything by myself, since all my family was in Brazil. Being away from my family was one of the greatest joys of living abroad – I never had to worry about organizing my messy room for the past four years.
It is hard to evaluate the time I have spent at Eastern, since it is only possible to truly evaluate the impact of an event long after it has happened. Nonetheless, some of the things I have learned at Eastern—both in music and in life—will remain with me as long as I live.
From a musical point of view, Eastern offered everything I really needed: Time and a practice room. I didn’t come here all the way from Brazil to party or have fun. Studying was the only thing I had in mind. Paradoxically enough, I realized that eating, breathing and sleeping are some of the most important things in life. Most of our actions are guided towards the satisfaction of these needs, and if we forget about them, something isn’t right.
My time at Eastern has given me some remarkable memories as well. I still remember my encounter with Carlos Nakai, a Native American flutist who gave a Chautauqua lecture on campus a few years ago. Shortly after I introduced myself to him, he said “Only get married after you’re past 30 and after you’ve travelled the world.”
It is certainly something I am willing to try. The only problem with this advice, though, is that I may not want to get married after all that.
Gabriel Fernandes is a music performance and music theory and composition senior. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.