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Kissing America hello: Barros-Marquez bids Brazil farewell to live in Q-C
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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Raquel Barros-Marquez, from Brazil, works at Deere and Company and lives with her husband, Eddie Marquez, in Davenport.
MOLINE — When she was 17 years old, Raquel Barros-Marquez left Brazil in search of more. She found it in the Quad-Cities.

Ms. Barros-Marquez, who grew up in Santos, Brazil, spent years living just four blocks from the beach. But like many teenagers, she was itching to get out and see the world.

"I was looking for something else," she said, adding she wanted to be on her own to "see what's really out there."

Ms. Barros-Marquez, now 25, got her chance in high school when she joined a Rotary exchange program that offered a choice to spend her senior year in Illinois or Alaska.

"I chose Illinois," she said. "I was a little afraid of how (the Alaskan) winter would be."

So she packed her bags, said goodbyes to her family and made her way to Knoxville High School in Knoxville, Ill.

While her three host families helped her learn about and adapt to the American culture, it was a struggle, she said.

The differences in eating habits were one of the first things she noticed. In Brazil, regardless of the time of year, she could open her fridge or walk down the street to find vendors offering just-picked fruit and other fresh, local produce. You could grab "a strawberry and eat it on the street," she said.

That isn't the case in the Quad-Cities area, unless you live near a farmers' market — and even then, you're almost always at the mercy of what's in season.

Portion sizes in America also are quite a bit larger than those in Brazil, she said, adding she felt like she had to "eat it all."

Language was another barrier to overcome for Ms. Barros-Marquez. Though she had studied English in school since the first grade, she only spoke it during class, which only amounted to two to three hours per week. It also was "proper English," she said. So, to improve her language skills and pick up contractions and slang, she mimicked what she heard and watched TV shows with subtitles, she said.

Greetings also were a notable difference between the cultures, she said, explaining that in Brazil you "kiss on the cheek to say 'hello' to someone," which, she said, is a "very Latin thing."

In America, "you say 'hi' from far away," and people have their own "bubbles," she said. In Brazil, "there's no such thing as a 'bubble.'"

She learned this the hard way when she greeted her classmates with kisses on the cheek and was given "What are you doing?" looks, she said.

As her senior year of high school progressed, she picked up the language and became more familiar with the culture. She started to think about college and visited Augustana College in Rock Island with a classmate, where she fell in love with the campus.

"People were so nice to me. I loved the way the campus looked, and I heard there were more international students in the same situation I was in," she said. She told her parents she wanted to attend Augustana. They thought it would be a "good opportunity to grow and mature on my own," she said.

She planned to return to Brazil after college, armed with a degree, to search for a good job.

"I came here with the intention of learning a new language and culture, meeting new people and then going back home," she said. But during her freshman year at Augustana, "I met my beautiful husband," Eddie Marquez.

He gently teased her for calling him "beautiful," and she asked him what word she should have used.

"Handsome," he replied.

"Handsome," she repeated.

During her sophomore year at Augustana, she took a part-time job at John Deere. "They needed a Portuguese speaker," she said, which is her native language.

Another position she took within the company required corresponding with and traveling to countries in Latin America, including Brazil and Mexico. "I knew the culture," the language and the food, she said. "I helped my coworkers," too.

Ms. Barros-Marquez now is a business analyst at Deere. "I have adapted (to the culture)," she said, adding her daily life feels "very balanced. I definitely see this as my second home."

Ms. Barros-Marquez travels to Brazil once a year to visit her family, and her family visits her in the Quad-Cities once a year, too.

And in between visits? "Thank God for Skype," she said.

While she is happy to be in America, she also has a lot of pride for Brazil, she said.

"She can't see Argentina win at anything," her husband said with a laugh.

Mr. Marquez, who is Mexican-American and from DeKalb, Ill., graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in May 2012 and is practicing at Picchiotti Wellness Center in Bettendorf. If things work out as the couple has planned, they will stay in the Quad-Cities, they said.

"We love the community. We love how diverse it is," Ms. Barros-Marquez said.

The two dream of opening a Quad-Cities clinic for Mr. Marquez, buying a house and "raising our kids here," Ms. Barros-Marquez said.

"Yes, I would love to go back (to Brazil), but I love it, too, here," she said. "I have made this my home."


Brazil

 -- Location: Eastern South America, bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

-- Population: 199,321,413 (July 2012 estimate). No. 5 in the world.

-- Languages: Portuguese (official and most widely spoken language). Less common languages include Spanish (border areas and schools), German, Italian, Japanese, English, and a large number of minor Amerindian languages.

Source: CIA World Factbook.


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