Texas Tech University

Staff Spotlight: Jan Stogner

Jan Stogner, International Sponsored Student Programs Administrator in the Office of International Affairs, moved to Brazil with her husband within the early months of their marriage. Frank, Jan's husband, was a young executive with NCH Corporation, a chemical company located in Dallas. The career opportunity that initially took Frank to Mexico City, where he had established his life and made many friends, instead took the native Texans and Tech grads to a country over 5000 miles away where they knew no one.

Jan Stronger

Jan Stronger

What was it like being a new bride in a country so far away from home? Tell us a bit about the first Brazilian city you lived in.

When my husband Frank and I got engaged, the plan was that I would join him in Mexico City where he had already been living for two years. Although Frank always had dreams of living in Latin America, I never thought I would live outside of Texas. Living in Mexico seemed like an ideal solution. Frank had a job that he loved and I would not be too far from family and friends. Three weeks before the wedding, Frank received a promotion which required moving to Brazil. We had to readjust what we thought our future home would be. We did spend four months in Mexico which was like an extended honeymoon going to all the places that Frank knew and loved before moving to Sorocaba, Brazil.

Sorocaba was quite different from Mexico City. Although it was a city of about 400,000 people, it seemed much smaller. Unlike Mexico City, we were the only Americans living in our community. But this was a good way to start our life in Brazil. It forced us to integrate into the culture faster. As any person who has lived abroad knows, it can be frustrating not knowing the language or customs of your new country. But many Brazilians reached out to us and helped us adjust to our new home. We had expected to stay in Brazil for only two or three years, but we loved it so much we stayed for ten!

Tell us about the expat community and raising your children in Brazil.

After four years in Sorocaba, we moved to the suburbs of Sao Paulo. Here there was a large international expat community. We became close friends not only with families from Brazil but also from South Africa, Scotland, The Netherlands, Germany, and of course the United States. We still call each other every New Year's Day and visit each other when we can.
Our two children were born in Brazil. It is a wonderful country in which to raise a family. Brazilians love children. With so much sunshine, our children played outside all the time. One of our favorite outings was to go to the feira, or street fair. The streets were lined with vendors selling the most delicious fruits and vegetables. They would always give you samples to taste as you were shopping. It was quite an adventure for a three year old. We also spent many weekends enjoying the beaches between Sao Paulo and Rio, shopping at the hippies fair in Sao Paulo, and exploring an artist colony in the colonial village of Embu. If we stayed home, inevitably a friend or neighbor would invite us over for a churrasco (barbecue) by their pool.

Both our children had the wonderful experience of attending a Brazilian preschool. Here they met other Brazilian children, learned Portuguese and became immersed in the Brazilian culture through the songs they sang and the games they played. When my daughter was ready for first grade, she attended the American School in Sao Paulo. This was another great experience. The school was one third American, one third Brazilian and one third children of expats from countries all over the world. International week at the American school was amazing!

What effect do you think growing up in Brazil has had on your children?

Living abroad affected our family in many positive ways. You realize that people basically are the same in every country. They want to be productive, happy, and connect with others. Parents everywhere want the best for their families. Living in a foreign country also makes your mind more open and accepting of others. You become more aware of what is happening all over the world, not just in your own backyard.

My children are very proud to have both American and Brazilian citizenships. They will always feel unique because they had the opportunity to live abroad. Living in Brazil has affected both of their career choices. My daughter currently works at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington D.C. She organizes international training conferences which allows her to work with Peace Corps staff from countries throughout the world. My son is pursuing a degree in International Studies with a specialization in Latin America, Spanish and international commerce. They are both accomplished world travelers and have a great curiosity about other cultures.

Jan Stronger with children

Jan Stronger with her children in Brazil

What were some of your greatest blessings during your years in Brazil?

By far the greatest blessing we experienced from our time in Brazil was getting to know the Brazilian people. Brazilians are very warm, kind and caring. They are rightfully very proud of their country and are eager to make an "estrangeiro" feel welcome.

We loved the natural beauty of Brazil. Everything is lush and green and the flowers were spectacular. We actually had lime trees growing in our front yard and there was a flock of parakeets that would perch in the tree outside my son's window. We were also able to explore many beautiful areas of South America such as the Patanal (wetlands) of Brazil, the lake region of southern Chile, the ski slopes of the Andes Mountains, and the spectacular Iguaçu Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina.

Another blessing was we learned to live very simply in Brazil. When you are an expat, you live as a nomad. It is difficult to accumulate a lot of material goods. We did not have much furniture and our children did not have many toys, but we realized that less "stuff" meant more freedom. We even learned we could live quite comfortably without air conditioning. It was very refreshing to open all the windows and doors in the morning and let the fresh air blow through.

How has your lengthy experience living abroad impacted your ability to help our international sponsored students at Texas Tech?

Having lived in a foreign country and gone through many of the same challenges that an international student is facing at Texas Tech, I have great empathy for their situation. I know how difficult it is to be so far from home and adapt to a new culture. It takes a lot of courage. Many Brazilians helped smooth the way as we adjusted to our new life in their country. It is my pleasure to be able to do the same for the international students at Texas Tech. Being a native of Lubbock and a Red Raider, I would like for the international students who come to Texas Tech to have the same positive experiences and fond memories of their time here as we do of our years in Brazil.