Family PhotoDuring the past few months, my family has been hosting a foreign exchange student from Brazil. His name is Daniel, and he’s 17 years old from a small city in Brazil, 2 hours’ drive from Sao Paolo. Before he came to our house, Daniel had never traveled outside of Brazil. He landed in Des Moines on January 20 when the temperature was 11 degrees Fahrenheit. (The all-time lowest temperature ever recorded in Brazil was 7 degrees Fahrenheit. So Daniel’s first day in America was some of the coldest weather anyone in his country had ever experienced.)

Daniel has gotten involved in a lot of different activities at school. He’s on the soccer team (naturally – even though Daniel described his soccer ability as “average,” by American standards he’s a soccer star. At Daniel’s first soccer practice, he scored two goals and assisted on 12 more goals). He’s involved in acting lessons and improv comedy classes. He loves Michael Jackson, singing, dancing and enjoying life.

Having a foreign exchange student at our house has taught me a lot about America, and especially the American spirit of entrepreneurship. Talking with Daniel has helped me understand more about Brazil, but especially it has taught me more about America.

  • America attracts ambitious people: Daniel said that he was interested to come to the U.S. because he feels it is one of the world’s most important countries. Everyone in Brazil has watched American movies, TV shows (Daniel and his Brazilian friends are huge fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”) and music (Daniel can moonwalk just like Michael Jackson). Even though Brazil is experiencing huge economic growth, with one of the world’s largest emerging consumer economies and recently having discovered huge oil reserves, Daniel said that he feels that there are still many exciting opportunities in America. He wanted to study here to learn more about the U.S. and feel part of this country’s culture. If you’re a certain kind of person with some ambition and entrepreneurial spirit, determined to do more with your life and get beyond whatever limitations are confronting you, America is still one of the best places to be.
  • America feeds off of the ideas and strengths of immigrants: We’ve written before about how entrepreneurs should “think like an immigrant,” and how CorpNet CEO’s Nellie Akalp’s family roots in entrepreneurship originated with her Iranian immigrant parents who opened a store soon after moving to California. Talking with Daniel, our exchange student, is a great reminder of how America is constantly being shaped by the new ideas and experiences of people born beyond our shores.
  • Entrepreneurs should build more international and cross-cultural relationships: Being an entrepreneur means you are constantly learning. You have to constantly figure out what works and what doesn’t. You have to constantly put yourself in new situations and expose yourself to new ideas and introduce yourself to new people. One of the best ways to do this is to meet people who are from different backgrounds and have different perspectives. For me, hosting visitors from other countries, traveling abroad, making friends and building business relationships with people in other countries have been some of my life’s most powerful learning experiences.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about America’s “decline” as a global economic power, and many people are worried that America is going to see its economic might shrink as emerging economies like China, India and Brazil grow. For me, one of the lessons I’ve taken away from hosting an exchange student is that as long as America is a place that attracts talented, ambitious people – and rewards them for their work – we’re going to be OK.

Although Brazil sounds like a marvelous place – a fast-growing economy with sunny weather, beautiful beaches, and they recently struck oil…maybe I’ll start learning Portuguese now, and avoid the rush.