Brasilia International School

Ava is the Principal at the Brasilia International School

Tell us a bit about yourself, how and where you grew up, and where you went to school.
I grew up in Memphis with my parents and 4 other siblings. We were taught the Word of God and I became a Christian while in Elementary School.

After high school, I attended the University of Memphis and obtained both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. After marrying and starting a family, I changed my initial career focus from Health (Nursing) to Education. I had a love for both, however, I had become very interested in the education of my 3 children and the program for learning that was available to them in school, and I wanted very much to engage myself thoroughly in the educational process. I then decided to become certified in Elementary and Secondary Education and came to understand that Education was my calling.

I taught for 15 years, then felt a further calling to broaden my perspective in Education. After a discussion with my family and fervent prayer, I applied and became a Principal. What an awesome appointment. Being a Principal allowed a broader scope and range of the educational process and responsibilities while influencing and interacting with not only students, but teachers, parents, community, stakeholders, and district personnel. Going to work became a joy every day. However, there was one major component missing throughout my professional career as a teacher and as a Principal and that was the fact that prayer and the Bible were not allowed in the public schools as my entire career was in the public school arena. I knew of a surety that negative issues would have been far less prevalent if God’s Word was allowed to go forth on a daily basis within and around the schools. Nevertheless, I continued my career with the public schools until retirement. It was only retirement from the public school system and not from the love of Education. I somehow knew that another door was about to open.
How did you first hear about opportunities at NICS?
A year after I retired from the school system, I was visiting with a friend of mine and she asked me to visit her church with her and I agreed. I went the very next Sunday to Harvest Church and it was there that I heard an announcement from the President of NICS, Joe Hale. What a passionate, heartfelt, and genuine “short” announcement he made about NICS and its mission. He said that there would be a table in the back after the service for anyone who may be interested. I thought, “that sounds like the very opportunity that I have be waiting for”. I went to the table after the service and met Lydia Zuideima. She was so warm, friendly, and knowledgeable. She actually had a sweet angelic disposition and countenance. Lydia was kind and professional while answering the questions that I asked. I could feel the love of Christ in her presence. I was so impressed that I decided to go to the website, sign up for the job fair, and apply. The rest is history, and here I am in Brazil as the Principal of Brasilia International School.
Did you speak any other languages beyond English?
I did not speak any other language beyond English.
What did your family say when you told them that you were going to work in another country?
My family was not so surprised because I had been to other countries leading a student exchange program, during each summer for 5 years. However, most of my visits to other countries did not extend beyond one month. The NICS opportunity was going to be the first time going to another country to live for an extended period of time.

My family was actually excited for me and said that this was a blessed opportunity.  I was very fortunate to have my 92 year old mother to tell me that she was so proud of me and that she gave me her blessings to go. She said, and I knew, that my father would be proud as well if he was still living. My mother prayed for me and told me that God would be with me every step of the way through the tough times as well as the easy times, the same way He has been when working in Memphis, God is everywhere.
What was the biggest barrier keeping you from signing on with NICS?
I think that I had more of a concern than a barrier. I was very concerned about the contract that I was to sign. I did not want to feel forced to stay in a place if things were not conducive to living in a satisfactory environment or working in a place where I could not do the job that I was hired to do and was led by God to do.
What convinced you to overcome that barrier?
I went into the assignment feeling very positive which was the first thing to do. Secondly, I thought that in the event that things became bad enough to make me want to leave, I did not believe that a well respected organization like NICS would try to uphold or force me into unpleasant kinds of circumstances. So I believed that NICS would always have best interest, my safety, and my mental welfare at heart as well as the persons whom I was sent to serve.
What was the biggest fear once you signed up?
I was not fearful at all, but I was a little nervous about approaching something so new for an extended period of time.
Did your family encourage you to go? If so, what was the most encouraging thing that they did?
My family had a big dinner for me and my mother gave me her blessings. Also, we all attended church together and I was called to the altar where my biological family as well as my church family prayed for me and the job and opportunity that was before me.
What was your biggest fear when you landed in your new country?
Communication was and still is my biggest concern. Not being able to communicate can be a major obstacle. I am working on that daily. This is a dual challenge; having to learn a new culture and a new language. However, after only 8 months, I can move about with much more comfort having learned basic and essential phrases.
What was your favorite experience living in a new country?
My favorite experience was being able to order my very own favorite cup of coffee (in Portuguese) without help; (Espresso com leite, por favor); as well as a second cup, (mais um). I felt great after doing that. I said it with a Portuguese flair and accent!! I had been practicing it for days! (smile).
What is the funniest thing that happened to you as you acclimated to a new country?
I would continue to mistake their money for paper and almost throw it away. I was cleaning up my counter and had some of the foreign currency crumpled in a pile of other gum or candy papers ready to toss into the trash! I shouted to myself, THAT’S MONEY!!!! I wondered how much money had I already thrown away!!
Tell us your favorite story from teaching/being a Principal at your NICS school.
This is more of a comment rather than a story, but it is my favorite. One of the (Early Learning) 4 year old students told her mother not to speak to me in Portuguese because I could only speak English. Then she said to her mother, “Why can she only speak English?” How interesting, I thought. As young as she was, she could speak and understand English albeit in a limited fashion. She could not understand why I was not able to speak Portuguese especially being the Principal!! She wanted an answer!!
What makes being a Principal with NICS so special?
NICS has created a wonderful opportunity for me and other professionals like me to see other parts of world while advancing your career and especially spreading the Good News; The Word of God to other people and other nations. We have the opportunity to do as God has commanded us to do from the Bible when it says to “go into all the nations”. NICS is also an organization that is very supportive and attentive to the needs of its employees. I have not had any situation or question that has gone unaddressed or answered in the most loving and professional manner. It feels very good to be a part of any organization with such admirable characteristics.
How did your experience with NICS help you grow as a teacher/principal?
This opportunity with NICS helped to broaden and enlarge my territory and sphere of interactions on a global scale. I came to understand the differences in countries and culture, while simultaneously understanding that we are all the same.

This opportunity also allowed me to not only to see how other school systems work but to actually examine best practices that are conducive to learning in any country within any venue. I grew to know it is the Fruit of the Spirit that undergirds any success that any teacher or Principal will ever have in any place anywhere.
What do you wish you knew before you signed up?
I wish that I knew the cost of all of the documentation in preparation to go. The certification of the notaries, the background check and FBI report, the apostile cost, the visa cost, airfare etc. can add up to a rather hefty price tag. Also, the time that it takes to get all of the documentation and processes done can be daunting. Those were the two things that caused me to become somewhat stressed. If I had known the initial output of funds as well as the time needed to complete all of the necessary paperwork, I may have decided to acquire the funds first, then apply very early so that I would not have become stressed about those two things.
What would you tell someone considering becoming a NICS teacher?
I would tell them that it is a grand opportunity to expand their horizon by immersing themselves into their profession, to see and experience other countries, and learn other cultures, while strengthening their Christian faith and walk with the Lord through service.
What is the one thing a new teacher should pack for their trip?
The one thing they should pack is their own Bible. My favorite Bible is a rather large study Bible and I initially did not pack it. I took a smaller, newer one, (not as worn). But Oh, how it missed my favorite Bible with all of the markings and notations that I had made in it from my Bible Study classes, church services, and personal study.

When I went home for Christmas, that was the first thing that I got and put it in my luggage so that I would not forget it when I went back to Brazil.

So, my advice would be sure to bring what is special and has worked well for you in the past because if you do not, you will miss it so much more.
What is your best advice for getting use to a new culture/climate?
For me, to get used to a new culture/climate, one must first research as much as possible about the country and culture. Secondly, if it is possible to reach out to someone already in the country where you are going, ask all of the questions that you may think of, including those that may seem trivial. If the question is important, it is not trivial. Thirdly, decide, in your mind, that you will do well in your new country. I believe that things almost always turn out the way a person continuously thinks that they will. Lastly, immerse yourself into the culture as completely as possible. For example, start trying to learn the language, eat the different foods, and allow yourself to experience a change to enjoy the difference in the variety of new tastes of the foods, and above all else, embrace the people of the country.

The people are typically very interested in foreigners and sometimes stare. But they are just curious to know more about this new American who has been interested enough to be a part of their country for a little while.
What final words of encouragement do you have for someone considering a job with NICS?
If you desire to work with a solid, reputable, supportive, and Christian organization, NICS meets all of those qualities and characteristics and more. The people at the Home Office are phenomenal and they take the time to answer any and all questions that may come to mind. They never get tired of you and they are always so gracious.

Going to another country to work is a major decision and it is of paramount importance to be connected with the right people and the right organization that has God at its center governing every aspect of its operation. With a foundation such as this, the only thing that one must do is to pack up, say your sweet farewells for a while, and be on you way to a grand opportunity to serve and to be the best you can be for the Glory of the Lord!

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