PLYMOUTH — For one Plymouth High School grad the world certainly has been her open book.
An exchange student at Plymouth in the class of 1980, Milene Ferrazza Thomas took what her time in the United States was able to teach her and made the most of it. Her work in psychology and with an NGO in Brazil has given her a chance to impact lives all over the world.
Milene says that her time in Plymouth changed her forever.
“It’s an eye opener. You see the world differently after you’ve been through something like that,”she said. “I joined an NGO (non-governmental organization) and the work we did focused on peace education. We work with children and teenagers all over the world, teaching them how it’s possible to live in peace with one another no matter where you’re from.”
Returning to Brazil after her senior year, Milene found that things were very different. Having missed her final year of studies it was necessary to take a short course to prepare for the exams necessary to enter University in her country. In addition she had to decide about whether she even wanted to stay in her country.
“When you leave a country after being an exchange student I think we are very confused because you don’t know what you want,” she said. “The experience has a great impact on your life. You try to decide ‘Do I want to go back to my country or do I want to go back where I was?’ At least in my case where the experience was so good.
“I missed the U.S a lot. So much so that I came back in 1982 just to visit because I wanted to be here. You have to come to some sort of a decision. I decided to pursue psychology as a course and then a profession and then everything was pretty much set.”
And it has been quite a career. She has served as the director of the international board for her NGO, and her career in psychology has taken her all over her country.
“I work with group process,” she said. “Whenever you have a group working together, in a school or a company or wherever I get the group to get along. That way conflict resolution isn’t a problem. People in companies today spend 80 percent of their time solving problems instead of being productive.”
She also works to promote solutions to another problem that has gained international headlines.
“I’ve developed an anti-bullying program in Brazil that I use in schools with teenagers or enable teachers to use the program that I’ve developed,” she said.
While she works to solve the problem of bullying, she still points to her time in Plymouth as something that has shaped her life.
“There is a genuine trust here. Americans trust you and so the friendships you make are real,” said Milene. “This is what affected me the most. I love the way things are organized here. You have a strict but functional way of living. Being on time, obeying the laws, respecting people’s rights, everybody is treated the same way. To me that was a very strong impact when I was here.
“You see things from a different perspective and that opens up a whole world for you. You become more giving, more tolerant. We’re all people. We all want the same things. We want to be loved, we want to be accepted, we want to feel part of something.”