From Brazil to the US: The Journey of Two Young Basketball Players

During their travel team basketball practice at LRMS, Izabel Varejão (left) and Geassy Germano (right) pose proudly with the Brazil flag on their jerseys and draped around their back. Both girls have lived with local Leesville families during the two years they’ve been in the US. (photo courtesy of Lucy Leen)

For the past two years, select players from the Brazil Women’s National Basketball team have been journeying to the US seeking greater opportunities in basketball and education. The Brazilians play for a local AAU basketball team called the Carolina Waves and attend Neuse Christian High School.

Two of the four girls who came to the US have been living with families in the Leesville community. The Hall family has three kids currently attending Leesville schools and one already graduated. Their oldest son, Grant Hall, graduated with the class of 2016, and now attends Brigham Young University in Idaho. The Halls have two girls at Leesville High. Elise Hall is a Junior and Tessa Hall is a freshman — both girls cheer for varsity.

The Halls hosted Izabel Varejão from Vitória, Brazil. There is no doubt a bond formed between the girls and their host families.

“They were awesome.They did things to make me happy, and they tried their hardest to make me not feel homesick,” said Varejão.

The Hall family hosted two exchange students at the same time. “They became like daughters and sisters to us…we could talk with them for hours and thoroughly enjoy their company,” said Anne Hall, host mother to Varejão.

The Hemmings, another Leesville family, hosted Geassy Germano. “When in a house they are ultra respective of what rules there may be,” said Eric Hemming. As time goes on the girls feel more comfortable and at home. “After thirty days it’s like they are one of your kids. They feel a lot more relaxed and just live like a normal teenager,’’ said Hemming.

This whole experience is new to both the girls and the families they are living with. Once the families have gotten comfortable with each other, life becomes a lot more enjoyable. “She loved our togetherness and our family activities…I felt like we have similar fun and outgoing personality types,” said Hall.

A big part to the bonding process is taking the time to learn everything you can about the each other. The Hemming family often vacationed with the families of their students; keeping in touch with those closest to the girls is crucial. “They are like my second family,” said Germano talking about her host family, the Hemmings.

When the girls moved in, they took on many host siblings. Both the Hemmings and the Halls have four kids, and both families took on more than one exchange student. Saying they had a full house was an understatement.

“It was very fun having her live with us…she taught us about her culture and the way she lived,” said Tessa Hall, a freshman at Leesville and host sibling to Varejão.

“Once I got to know them it was really fun…they became like sisters to me,” said Abbey Hemming, junior at Leesville and host sister to Germano. The host siblings all enjoyed adding to their family. For the kids, a new “sibling” was exciting.

There are many challenges the host families have to face when taking in their exchange student. Mrs. Hall herself has been an exchange student, so she could better understand their situation. However, “As a parent the biggest sacrifice you make is having to divide your attention to yet another child,” said Mrs.Hall. Splitting her time as a parent also meant splitting the chores of the house evenly. “You have to get over the feeling you have a guest in your house and learn to treat the exchange student as one of the family,” said Mrs.Hall.

Luckily, the good times outweigh the bad. Both families, children and adults, are proud to see these girls achieve so much. “Knowing that they changed their life long term beyond basketball is even better to see,” said Eric Hemming.

His family and the Halls watched these girls grow. The girls came to this country seeking the greater opportunities that they were fortunate enough to have been given.They learned the language, the culture, and the way of life in the U.S. in a short period of time.

While doing all this, they maintained straight A’s in school and practiced basketball everyday of the week, sometimes twice a day. These girls have determined their future by their hard work.

Being the genuine girls they are, and amazing student-athletes, will set these girls up with the opportunity to attended elite colleges. Both host families are sure of it, these girls will achieve great things and they can’t wait to watch them do so.  


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