Brazilian family feels right at home in Grinnell

April 12, 2024 — When Diego Coelho Rodrigues ’25 took a call from his mom in Brazil while training in Florida with the Grinnell College swimming team in January 2023, he had no idea the surprise she had in store. 

She inquired about the upcoming Midwest Conference Championship being held on Grinnell’s campus that February. Then she told him she would be there. “I was in shock,” Coelho Rodrigues recalls. While his mom, Alcita Coelho de Lima, has always been his biggest fan, he wasn’t expecting her to fly across the continent to cheer him on. 

Diego Coelho Rodrigues ’25 with his mom, Alcita Coelho de Lima.
Diego Coelho Rodrigues ’25 takes a photo on Grinnell’s campus with his mom, Alcita Coelho de Lima.

The bond of family is incredibly important to Coelho Rodrigues, who comes from the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. “We are always supportive of one another,” he says. “The hardest part of studying abroad is being apart. I love them and miss them so much.” 

As a high school student, Coelho Rodrigues learned about friends who were on swim teams at universities in the U.S. Intrigued, he began researching schools abroad and soon discovered Grinnell. “It opened the door to much more beyond swimming,” he recalls. “I saw it was a great place to learn different things as well as get involved in the arts and community. It felt right.” 

His parents and sister supported this dream. “We were concerned, of course, because we are all so close,” says Coelho de Lima. “But as soon as we looked into Grinnell and all of the opportunities, such as the tutorial classes, we were relieved.”

“When I got to Grinnell, it was magical,” Coelho Rodrigues recalls. He particularly enjoyed both the international student and new student orientations. “It was amazing to meet so many people in such a short time. The weather was really hot, which was also great!” Not yet completely fluent in English, Coelho Rodrigues felt intimidated at first, but the welcoming atmosphere soon put him at ease. By his second year, he was confident enough to become a community advisor in Reed Hall. He’s currently away from campus for the year studying at the London School of Economics.

Alcita Coelho de Lima  cheers on her son at the 2023 Midwest Conference Championship.
Coelho de Lima cheers on her son at the 2023 Midwest Conference Championship.

During his first winter break at Grinnell in December 2021 and January 2022, his family came to visit Coelho Rodrigues. Despite the cold weather and lack of classes and activity on campus, they loved it. “I was enchanted and surprised by the campus,” Coelho de Lima says. “It’s a different landscape, but very beautiful.”

Karen Edwards, dean of international students and exchange visitors, and her husband, Jon Edwards, director of international admission, invited the family to dine in their home. “The Edwards family was so kind and welcoming to us,” says Coelho Rodrigues. “You don’t find this personal connection everywhere, and I think that this special attention is one of the most unique and dearest aspects of Grinnell. Last summer, Jon visited us in Brazil and now has become a friend for life.”

Coelho Rodrigues is proud of his family and their many talents. His parents, both musicians, have successfully managed a music school for 21 years, and his sister, who plays four instruments and has a master’s in cultural administration, is the cultural producer at a theater in the Sao Paulo area.

“Music connects us as a family and brings us close together,” Coelho de Lima says. An accomplished pianist, she also recently earned a degree in music therapy. Her husband, Carlos Henrique Ferdinando Rodrigues, is a renowned bass player, and they have recorded music together.

Following in their footsteps through his own musicianship, their son performs with the Latin American Ensemble at Grinnell, something his mom also had a chance to witness when she came to campus. “It was the most amazing experience I had there,” Coelho de Lima says. She also enjoyed a jazz show directed by Associate Professor Mark Laver as well as practicing her own music on the College’s Steinways. 

Students from Brazil enjoy a meal Coelho de Lima organized when she visited Grinnell.
Students from Brazil enjoy a meal Coelho de Lima organized when she visited Grinnell.

As Coelho de Lima’s visit came to a close, she had one final surprise. Having connected with other Brazilian students who have become her son’s extended family, she had an idea.

“In our state in Brazil, cooking is a gesture of appreciation, friendship, and showing love for each other,” Coelho Rodrigues explains. “My mom wanted to bring some of Brazil to these students at Grinnell.” So they reserved the Marcus Family Global Kitchen in the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC) for her to prepare a traditional dish called escondidinho. Coelho Rodrigues and his mom were touched that more than a dozen gathered not only to enjoy the meal, but also to help cook it together.

“It was unforgettable,” says Coelho de Lima.

— by Melanie Drake ’92

For your information

Diego finished in third place in the 200 individual medley at the 2023 Midwest Conference Championships. See all his swimming stats on his swim team roster page.

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