São Paolo teen experiences life in Skykomish
By Chris Hendrickson, Contributing writer
He came from one of the largest cities in the world, with a population of roughly 20 million, to live in the town of Skykomish, where the population tops out at about 200.
Caio (pronounced Ki-oh) Pimenta came to Skykomish from São Paulo, Brazil, last August through the International Cultural Exchange Services’ foreign student exchange program.
Since then, the 17-year-old has been living in Skykomish with his host, Skykomish School advocate and spokesperson Bill Atkinson, where he will stay throughout the entirety of the 10-month program.
Pimenta, a senior, attends classes at the Skykomish School and plays sports both in Skykomish and in Sultan. He went from being in high school with hundreds of students to the Skykomish School, which boasts around 40; out of which 12 are in high school.
Pimenta, who adapted with remarkable ease, has taken the cultural change in stride. “It’s a different experience,” said Pimenta. Pimenta was born and raised in São Paulo, where he lives with his parents, Elza and Leandro, his 21-year-old sister Camila, and his 9-year-old brother Luca. After seeing several of his friends have great experiences as they went abroad and became exchange students, Pimenta became interested in trying it out for himself.
“My family always supported the idea,” said Pimenta.
His friends have traveled to places like Germany, the island of Malta, Canada and the United States. Pimenta knew that he wanted to come to the United States, but didn’t necessarily go out of his way to choose Skykomish. Rather, Skykomish chose him.
“You go online and pick a kid,” said Atkinson, who lives next to the river, just outside of town. Atkinson, who works to promote and advocate for the exchange student program in Skykomish, thought it would be fun to be a host to somebody like Pimenta due to the extreme population disparity between Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, and the snowy mountain town of Skykomish.
Anybody can become a host family once they successfully pass through the International Cultural Exchange Services’ screening process.
“You have to have criminal background checks,” said Atkinson. “I have to have five references because I’m a single person.”
Atkinson felt that Pimenta would be a great fit due to his love for sports, something that Atkinson has been instrumental in supporting for Skykomish School students. In a partnership worked out between himself and Sultan High School Athletic Director Scott Sifferman, Atkinson provides transportation to Skykomish School students who wish to play sports that are not available in Skykomish; specifically football, baseball and soccer.
Pimenta wasn’t quite sure what to think when he received the placement proposal last June. He performed some online research, and discovered what he could about the town of Skykomish.
“At first I was… ‘Oh that’s so small! It’s not going to be cool,’” said Pimenta. “He could have turned down the placement,” added Atkinson.
But Skykomish’s close proximity to Steven Pass had a significant influence on Pimenta, who had never before seen snow. Also influential was the fact that the people of Skykomish began to reach out to Pimenta right away, sending friend requests via Facebook and introducing themselves.
A surfing enthusiast in Brazil, he found the idea of being so close to the mountains very compelling. “Because I wanted to snowboard,” said Pimenta. His surfing experience definitely came in handy while mastering the new sport; Pimenta took to the slopes quite naturally.
He showed a recent video shot of him while on a snowboard, smoothly navigating a downhill incline at Steven Pass.
“He’s a surfer at home, snowboarder in Sky,” said Atkinson.
Being athletic, Pimenta shared that he actually picked up snowboarding fairly easily. He fell a lot on his first time out, but by his fourth or fifth trip to the slopes he stopped falling and began picking up some speed. “My fifth time I was going super-fast; like 30 miles per hour,” said Pimenta.
A soccer player since the age of five, Pimenta enjoys participating in all types of sports. “I always look forward to playing a new sport,” said Pimenta. “American football I play in Sultan, and I play basketball in Skykomish.” In Brazil Pimenta was very focused on playing soccer, and he is currently playing varsity soccer for the Sultan Turks. He hopes to be able use his skill in soccer to achieve an athletic scholarship and ideally, would like to attend the University of Washington.
Pimenta, who began learning English when he was around 9 or 10, has narrowed down his career aspirations to three different areas including medicine, web-design, or finance. In school he enjoys studying biology and algebra, as well as history and politics.
“I like history and contemporary world issues; you know, where you talk about what is happening right now,” said Pimenta.
If he decides to pursue medicine, Pimenta is particularly interested in becoming an endocrinologist; a physician who studies glands. Endocrinology focuses on glandular health and hormone production, both of which affect metabolism and food absorption, as well as other processes critical for good health. Physicians specializing in endocrinology often work with diabetic patients as well as patients with thyroid disorders. He shared that he became interested in endocrinology after his mother’s discovery of a tumor on her thyroid gland, which was fortunately benign and eventually removed. During the course of her medical treatments Pimenta would sometimes attend her appointments with her, and appreciated watching her physician successfully treat her issues.
Atkinson shared that he has little doubt in Pimenta’s ability to be successful, particularly due to his discipline and intense focus on setting and achieving his goals.
“I know whatever he chooses to do, he’ll be able to do,” said Atkinson.
Since arriving in Skykomish last August, Pimenta has spent time playing sports, attending classes at the Skykomish School where he has earned a 3.65 grade-point-average, making friends and learning to snowboard.
He got the chance to kayak down the Skykomish River with the Corson family, who owns the Outdoor Adventure Center in Index, and has also gone roller skating and paint-balling with friends. He’s been to San Francisco on a trip coordinated by ICES with a group of exchange students, which Atkinson got the opportunity to chaperon. Next, Atkinson is planning a spring-break road trip to his family’s cattle ranch in Montana, and is looking forward to traveling through Washington, giving Pimenta the opportunity to see the eastern portion of the state.
Atkinson has been struck by Pimenta’s bravery and his open-minded willingness to jump in with both feet and really participate in all that the Sky Valley has to offer. There was no slowly orchestrated transition period, said Atkinson. Pimento arrived, and the next day, he took him to football practice.
Atkinson’s sister and brother-in-law live directly across the street, so his family has gotten to know Pimenta, as well. He has really enjoyed being a host, and looks forward to staying in contact with Pimenta. He said that having Pimenta as an exchange student has been an all-around great experience.
“I like the noise… I like the laughing in the house, especially when I yodel,” said Atkinson. “And it’s so good for our kids in that little school to meet kids from around the world,” he continued.
Pimenta has very much appreciated the beauty of the Skykomish area and the contrast that exists between the Sky Valley and the downtown area of São Paulo, which is sometimes referred to as a “concrete jungle.”
He talked about an experience that happened during salmon-spawning time, which takes place towards the end of September and lasts into the early part of October. Last year, being an odd-numbered year signifying the return of the humpies, the river was teeming with salmon from Monroe all the way to Skykomish. One evening, Pimenta, who would sometimes dunk his legs into the river after football practice, had a fish swim right into him.
“The salmon touched my leg,” said Pimenta. “He’s like… ‘What are you doing here? Get out of here!’”
Pimenta will finish his senior year in Skykomish, after which he will return to Brazil and focus on applying for scholarships and getting accepted into a good college. While he is very much enjoying his time in Washington, he misses his family and looks forward to being home in time to celebrate his 18th birthday on July 9.
What has been Pimenta’s favorite thing about Skykomish so far? “The place is beautiful, and the people are good people,” said Pimenta.
Anybody interested in becoming a host family for a foreign exchange student, should contact ICES Regional Director Kari Owens at 1-888-284-2299 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about ICES can be found here: http://www.icesusa.org/.
Note: The population of São Paulo, Brazil, is reported as approximately 11 million in the inner-city area and nearly 20 million when its metropolitan region is included.