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An unlikely love story

The "charm of anticipated success" emanates from the United States of America, observed French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville during a visit in the early 19th century. That mythic power continues to exist in the 21st century.

A case in point is Camila Oliveira, a recent graduate of Minot State University.

Oliveira grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a cosmopolitan city of 10 million inhabitants. She studied English and Spanish at a private school for four years, a common practice among Brazilian youth. Several friends went to the U.S. as exchange students, and Oliveira felt the strong tug northward. However, a fanciful notion of America became a sobering reality, when she was assigned to Beulah, N.D., during a particularly brutal winter.

"It was just so cold. I hated it, every single day of it," she said of her first experience with endless permafrost.

Her host family, Sheryl and Steven Ash and their daughter Cassandra, proved to be a lifeline for her.

"I got attached to my family here," she said. "I made friends. I got to know more people from their church."

When she finished her senior year in Beulah, Oliveira returned to Brazil. However, America's siren song continued to beckon. She planned to return to North Dakota to attend college and be near her newfound family.

She investigated several universities but found none she liked. Then Sheryl Ash discovered a nearby university that featured an ideal program for her.

"My American mom found Minot State for me," she said.

Oliveira enrolled at MSU in January 2008. Winter remained its beastly self, but the human reception proved to be much warmer. Fortuitously, a staffer in her residence hall was from Brazil, and her roommate became her instant best friend.

The enthusiastic first-year student hurled herself into campus activities, eventually becoming a student ambassador and a member of student government. She also worked on residence hall staffs and in several university departments.

"Being in a small university, I had the opportunity to be a leader," Oliveira said. "Taking a leadership role was very beneficial for me personally and professionally."

While training to become a residence hall assistant, Oliveira met Derek Van Dyke, an MSU graduate currently working in Enrollment Services. The Mandan native had come to MSU to study broadcasting and never left. A professional relationship gradually morphed into a personal one.

"We just started to hang out. Then I guess it just happened," Oliveira said.

To read this story in its entirety, or other articles like this, check out the Fall 2012 issue of MSU's Connections Magazine.