Claudine Carvalho had a comfortable life in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She had attended college for five years and received her certification to be a physical therapist. She had a small clinic that she shared with two friends. Life was comfortable and maybe that is what was wrong. It was too comfortable and she didn’t feel a challenge. And then she fell in love with an American and decided to leave Brazil with her daughter for a new life in Madison, Wisconsin.
Carvalho is a very pleasant, positive and optimistic person whose attitude is almost infectious. She has the kind of personality that would cause her to be successful no matter what she decided to do.
“I came to the United States certainly for new experiences,” said Carvalho, a mortgage loan officer with Summit Credit Union. “I went to the U.S. and it was like ‘press the restart button’ and it was time to reinvent myself. And I gained new friends and I had to learn a new language because I didn’t know any English. I knew how to count from one to ten and say the names of the colors. That’s it. It was challenging, learning a new language, a new culture and new traditions and making new friends and starting a new career. I had to find out where I could fit. I knew one person before I moved here. That’s it. I knew one person who lived in Madison and so I moved here.”
When she moved to Madison, Carvalho didn’t know English. She took her lead from her children.
“I didn’t go to school here at all,” Carvalho said. “It’s a little silly. I learned English watching cartoons. They had short phrases and simple words. I observed my kids and how they are not afraid to make mistakes when they speak. When you are an adult and you come from being very independent and you know everything where you live and then I had to say that I didn’t know anything and I was afraid to make a mistake and not use words properly or have an accent. And I had to learn with the kids. They are not afraid. They just go for it. That’s why they learn so fast.”
Carvalho eventually got divorced and that put her in a difficult situation.
“When the divorce happened, I was a single mom and didn’t speak English with two little kids and one with big dreams,” Carvalho said. “I thought about going back home. Legally I couldn’t take the kids out of the country without both parents’ agreement. I decided, ‘You know what? I am not a quitter. I will fight to stay here and do the best that I could.’ Not only that, it was very, very tough. I would not say that everything was easy. It was very tough. When I look back, I surprised myself. But you know, when I look back, everything happened that was supposed to. I’m very glad that I came to the U.S. And I am very happy with the progress that I have made.”
Carvalho has made progress even though she realized that her dreams were not the most important dream that needed to be considered.
“You can have your credentials transfer to the U.S.,” Carvalho said. “But I couldn’t use some credits and I would have had to take some additional credits. Not everything transferred to the U.S. And it was the time to make a decision. I had a daughter. She had her own personal professional dreams. And it was time to say, ‘Okay, I need to choose whether I go back to college or I work hard to help her to go to college.’ She graduated from UW-Madison. Now she has moved to Iowa and she is going to medical school at Des Moines University. It was her time. And I have two more kids. I need to talk about them or they will be mad. I have a twin boy and girl. They are starting high school this year. They are amazing and are already looking for what they want to do, what is their dream and what is their goal and then let’s find out how to get there. “
Carvalho was going to have to realize her own dreams through some good, old-fashioned hard work. She became a physical therapist because she enjoyed helping people. She became interested in a career in the financial industry because she felt that she could help others realize their dreams.
“I found I could inform people on which direction to go to meet their financial goals,” Carvalho said. “I started as a teller. I was a part-time teller. It was my first experience with no knowledge of what to look for. It was my goal that every six months to work very hard so that I was ready for the next step. I was always looking forward to learning what else was out there. So I went from part-time teller to full-time teller to senior teller to teller supervisor and then I moved to this branch where I became a financial specialist to financial advisor and now mortgage loan officer. I have been with Summit for four years and I love it in terms of how much I learn, how much they embrace the diversity. So I started from one position and changed so many positions until now I am doing mortgages.”
And Carvalho’s customers are growing as she grows professionally.
“I have made an impact on people’s lives,” Carvalho said. “With Summit, I started opening accounts. I have members for whom I opened an account when they first came to the U.S. And as I moved from position to position, they moved along with me. Now they are buying houses. That is exciting.”
Owning a home is what helps people realize their American Dreams.
“What advice would I give people who want to buy a house,” Carvalho asked. “Come to me, come to Summit, come to anyone who will looking out for your best interest. Let’s talk about what your budget is, what your long-term plan is. Then we will explore the options to see what we need to do to get there. It is possible for everyone. It’s not easy, but it is possible. You need to be prepared for credit score and find out about down payment assistance. You need to get informed. I wish that people would go for their dream and ask questions and get informed. With Summit, we offer home buyers’ seminars. We offer after-five events. Several professionals go to a place just to sit down and talk. Our idea is not really get out there with applications. It’s to get people to understand that the time is now to buy and why and how to get there.”
In Carvalho’s view, it’s never too late to start out on fulfilling your dreams. No matter where you are starting from, the important thing is where you want to go.
“Even if you have a bad financial past, people will deal with you,” Carvalho said. “The first thing to do is let’s look at what happened and why it happened. Then let’s look at how we can begin to build your credit. That was one of the positions that I was doing. It was really look what is out there and what is in your best interest. If you are in collections, what can you do with that? If you are in collections, let’s see how we can consolidate it. If you have been in collections years ago and you have been working so hard to move forward, we work to consolidate everything. It’s kind of like team work. We’ll work with you, but you need to do your part.”
Carvalho loves what she is doing, but that doesn’t mean she has achieved all of her dreams.
“I keep dreaming and it keeps changing,” Carvalho said with a laugh. “It’s like my dream when I moved here was to be proud of myself, to look and say, ‘I did the right thing.’ I am proud of who I am and what I achieved. I have dreams about my family. I want to see my daughter graduate from medical school. I have two more on the way and I told them, ‘I will be there for you and we’ll work together.’ So my dreams keep changing. When I achieve one, I look forward to another one. That can drive people crazy. It drives my husband crazy. I got married again and he has been an awesome support when I push myself to get out of my comfort zone. I drive him crazy. ‘Okay, what else now? What is the next one?’ I just keep going and my dreams keep changing.”
What advice would she give a new immigrant?
“Learn to be patient and persistent,” Carvalho said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be hungry to learn. Really use your research and go for it. And then the universe will conspire to help you to achieve your goals.”
It’s a prescription that Carvalho has used to achieve her American Dream.
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