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    Posted April 10, 2014 by
    Miami, Florida
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    In praise of “other mothers”

    Exchange student program turns into adoption


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Jhena Vieira-Coffey was 15 when she came from Brazil to stay with the Coffey family in Michigan as an exchange student. Although she spoke no English and had no idea what the family she would be staying with was going to be like, it was her dream to study in the United States.

    But Vieira-Coffey became much more than just an exchange student to Mariah and Robert Coffey. When she was 17, the Coffey's legally adopted her on a state-level so she could study as an international student and eventually get her green card. "I have a huge, amazing family back in Brazil, and they supported this because it was my dream," she said. "The two families have met on several occasions. They all love one another. We’re just a big international family."

    Vieira-Coffey refers to Mariah as her "American mom." She says that Mariah made her realize she could aspire to be anything she wanted. She also cherishes many moments that they have shared together, like "when she would come and wake me up to go to school and jumped on my bed and followed that by kissing me all over my face really fast. She still does that to this day."
    - Verybecoming, CNN iReport producer

    I came to Michigan from Brazil in 1994 at 15 years of age as an exchange student. At the time, I did not know the family I would be staying with, nor did I know English, so I compare my experience to winning the lotto when it comes to the family who picked me. My American mom, Mariah, is one of the most inspiring people I've ever met in my life. She had a difficult upbringing as she came from a very low income family where basic necessary needs, such as toothpaste, most times than not were not on the shopping list. She went through a lot growing up including, being abused by a family member, not having the best education, getting married young and pregnant soon hereafter where her husband was also abusive - soon she just settled herself as a single mom to my sister and she raised her to the best of her ability (my sister is now college educated and owns a business with her husband). Despite it all, she never got depressed nor down, instead she used her story and past experiences to help others. She worked for years at Goodwill Industries where she touched the life of many disabled employees. As I mentioned, I didn't know any English when I first came to the US, this woman would come home after a tiring day and read books to me. When I didn't understand she would need to explain it by using words that I could make sense of as well as resort to sign language (hilarious at times). Aside from teaching me the actual language, she was teaching me patience, how to assimilate the culture, and ultimately she taught me how to become a better woman/person. This woman has been trough cancer, neck bone replacement, you name it and yet has always made it seem like the easiest thing in the world. I can only hope and wish to have her strength.
    After the exchange student program was over, they adopted me legally as their own and I still carry their last name after my own with pride.
    She has definitely helped me shape into the woman I am today. I consider myself very fortunate, I have a great job working for Microsoft and have an amazing family, this in part has everything to do with the teachings of my mom, Mariah.

    I was asked if there was one memory that I had of my mom that really defines our relationship - there are several. When she told me to call her mom – that showed me benevolence. When she read my English books, assignments and helped me with my homework when I was learning English – that showed me patience. When she would come and wake me up to go to school and jumped on my bed and followed that by kissing me all over my face (she still does this to this day) – that showed me love. I could go on and on… she is truly an amazing person. It was better than winning any lotto, I’m the luckiest person in the planet.

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