COLUMBIA — For Paula Ferreira, the toughest thing about coming to the United States is, she says, the “French fries and nuggets.”
Ferreira, a 25-year-old freshman setter on the Columbia College women’s volleyball team, moved from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Columbia in August to begin her volleyball season and college education. Besides the horrors of unhealthy American food, Ferreira has made many adjustments. She says she sees her time at Columbia College as a great opportunity to help the team and decide her future.
The Columbia College women's volleyball team defeated Hannibal-LaGrange 25-23, 25-23, 25-16 on Monday at the Arena at Southwell Complex. With the win, the Cougars improved to 14-1 and remained undefeated in American Midwest Conference play at 6-0. Columbia College will play next at home at 7 p.m. Friday against Park University.
The last time that Ferreira played organized team volleyball was when she was in high school in 2002. Since then she has spent some time playing beach volleyball and has worked at her family’s pizzeria in Rio de Janeiro, helping plan and cater parties.
“It’s been a long time that I didn’t play,” Ferreira says. “It’s a new thing because it’s been such a long time since I’ve had a team, a group. It’s a nice thing.”
As far as volleyball is concerned, Ferreira thinks that the biggest difference between Brazil and the United States is the caliber of play. After spending her high school years on a less successful squad, Ferreira says she is astonished by the high level of play at Columbia College. She laughingly admitted that she had no idea how good the team was when she arrived last month.
“I’m really glad I’m here, not at another college,” she said.
Juliana Quadrado, the team’s assistant coach, is from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and helped to recruit Ferreira. After Tally Mattos, another Brazilian on the team, met Ferreira in Rio de Janeiro, she recommended her to Quadrado and head coach Melinda Wrye-Washington. After the coaches reviewed Ferreira’s videos, Quadrado began to call and email Ferreira, organizing her paperwork and reassuring her about life in the United States.
“It was all a remote process,” Quadrado said. “I started talking to her when she was in Brazil, on the phone and on email. I told her what it was like here, about scholarships.”
No detail escaped Quadrado, who recognized that Ferreira would fill the team’s need for a talented setter.
“I tell them when is their interview, everything they need to take,” Quadrado said. “I say, ‘Do you have your passport?’ Everything.”
Now that the recruiting process is over and the paperwork has been filed, Ferreira is settling into her role on the team. Though she’s as much as seven years older than some of her teammates, Ferreira does not see herself as a mentor. Rather, she hopes that everyone on the team can work together to critique and improve each other’s skills.
“I like to, if I feel like I see something that they’re doing wrong, correct them,” Ferreira said. “As well, sometimes they do this with me ... I don’t like to talk too much, because I know sometimes people don’t like when you correct them. So I just watch, and I see which girls like to talk and which girls do not like to. I try to talk when they are trying to listen.”
Ferreira also says there is more to her life at Columbia College than volleyball. She’s excited about the chance to begin her college education. The reason that she delayed attending college in Brazil, she said, was the structure of their educational system.
“In Brazil, you have to know what you want to do,” she said. “You have to do for four years only the subjects for your major, and here you can start with other things. I didn’t know that. And so, well, I didn’t know what I want to do. I still don’t know what I want to do. But that’s OK here. I have two years more to know.”
Over the course of the next few years, Ferreira knows she will adjust to her new volleyball team and to her academic schedule.
“My brain is getting very used to studying,” she said. “It’s not as hard, but it’s getting used to it.”
Ferreira is also overcoming her initial homesickness and discomfort. She still misses her friends and family, but with her Brazilian roommate, Monica Dos Santos, and Mattos close by, Ferreira is becoming accustomed to American culture. And, despite her initial craving for the rice and beans she ate nearly every day in Rio de Janeiro, she says she is starting to get used to everything that is on her plate in Columbia.