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Lunch with Marjorie: Climbing corporate ladders, making transitions from Brazil to the U.S.—part three

May 25, 2011

Editor’s note: The following is the third in a three-part series. Part one appeared in the April 6-12, 2011, issue, and part two appeared in the April 20-26, 2011, issue.

By Marjorie Stradinger
Columnist

Will Zerey was recruited at 21 by Judson College in Chicago on a soccer scholarship when he was studying to be a diplomat in Brazil. He gave up sports, and is now on a fast track in corporate America.

I was curious about Will Zerey’s drive for success at 27, having only moved here from Brazil at 21. We continued chatting over coffee at Starbucks.

“You don’t seem like a kid who needed a lot of discipline as a youth,” I said. “But Catholic schools are strict.”

“In school, I was very stubborn,” Will said. “I would argue, ask for a good reason why I should do something. I was called into the principal’s office a lot.”

“Do you know who you look like?” I asked.

“Matthew Broderick,” he said, because so many have said so.

“Maybe. But exactly like Jerry Mathers. You’re too young to know Leave it to Beaver. You remind me of him in personality, too. Straight arrow,” I said.

“Were you always athletic?” I asked.

“Yes, but it’s different in Brazil, not such a sense of community,” he said. “It’s urban. Twenty million.”

His dad’s an engineer. His mom works in PR, but was a psychologist.

“Childhood traumas?”

“The first time moving to the opposite side of town to a different house,” Will said. “I didn’t know anybody. I was 8, worried whether they would like me. A drama queen?”

“Maybe drama prince,” I said.

“Because of the divorce, I grew up very fast,” he said. “By 15, I was already like an adult, working at a restaurant, neighborhood deliveries. I left my house at 16, got into college at 17. A short step from teen to adult.”

“Do you feel a little cheated of childhood?” I asked.

“A little bit,” he said. “I never regret anything…never look back. I think when you make a decision, you have to stick to it. I don’t believe in playing ‘What if?’ scenarios. They’re not part of life. Maybe it is my way to defend myself.”

“Any big mistakes, things you wish you hadn’t done?” I asked.

“Maybe stop swimming,” he said. “If I had pushed a little longer, I would have accomplished more.”

“You’re all about accomplishment,” I noted. “Rockford’s outdoor sports season is short. We have cold winters.”

“I extremely dislike the cold weather,” Will said. “I do snowboarding in Wisconsin. Devil’s Head, with a couple of friends from Chicago.”

“Do you choose weather or career?” I asked.

“Both. Balance. I am just that stubborn that I think wherever I go, I will be successful because I will make it happen,” he said.

He cares a lot about friendships.

“How do you be a friend?”

“Time.”

“They say love is spelled T-I-M-E,” I agreed.

“But, you think you know someone,” he said. “Then, in a few months, you think, ‘What happened to that person?’ The personality, beliefs, tastes. What they like, don’t like.”

Mostly, Will believes in enjoying life.

“Every single day you have, make it count today,” he said. “Don’t think about what’s going to happen tomorrow. You can’t control it. Of course, you have to have smart decisions.”

“Do you project what you will think of today’s decisions five years from now?” I asked.

“No, I’m a very spontaneous person, like when I came here and left Brazil, I came to visit,” he said. “I started the process in October, and in December, I was here.”

“What about your social life? Friends? Girlfriend?” I asked.

“Mostly, my friends are from BWW (Buffalo Wild Wings) in Chicago,” he said. “They became my family here. My girlfriend is from Racine. She worked for BWW; I met her in a training session.”

“She may be a reason to stay?”

“Ish.”

“So when you get established, are you going to look for someone open to moving back to Brazil?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” He stuck with ish.

“Are you a citizen yet?”

As we chatted, he was in the process. As of Jan. 16, 2011, this was a fact.

“Why did you decide to do that?” I asked.

“Respect for the place I live in, for everything they have given me,” he said. “I actually enjoy the people. It’s a diverse culture. I was fortunate enough to see a lot of the parts of the country.”

“Do they still ask you who the founding fathers are on the citizenship test?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“That’s hopeful. I hear they’re cutting that out of the history books. … What would you tell a younger brother about what life should be?” I asked.

“Enjoy life, be respectful, and take responsibility for your decisions.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at stradingerm@gmail.com.

From the May 25-31, 2011 issue

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