Becoming Texan (Waco Style)

By Kevin Tankersley

The Steuernagel Family

Pictured: Photographs by Rachel Whyte, www.rachel-whyte.com

Carol and Marcell Steuernagel didn’t know a person in Waco when they moved here from Brazil last August. Marcell had been in church work for more than a decade and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in church music in the Baylor University School of Music. They’ve been married for 12 years and have three children: Arthur, who is 8; Davi, who is 6; and 5-year-old Alice. The children just finished their year at Woodway Elementary School, where Carol spends time volunteering and helping other international parents make the transition to a new learning environment for their children.
     
Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley talked with the couple and their children at their home in Woodway, a house that is owned by a Baylor faculty member who was on sabbatical.

WACOAN: When did y’all move here?

Marcell: August of ’15.

WACOAN: And your children didn’t know any English?

Marcell: They knew a couple of words.

Carol: They knew the colors, maybe.

Arthur: We knew how to say ‘ostrich.’

Marcell: You have to have that skill set in Texas.

WACOAN: Was it difficult for your children to learn English? They sound like they have picked it up pretty well, considering you moved here in August.

Carol: Yeah, they are pretty good. Arthur corrects my English all the time. They didn’t know anything, so they were really fast-learning. Even at school, teachers really complimented them for learning so fast. I think the most difficult thing was more emotional than really learning the language. It was more, ‘I don’t understand anything, and I have to spend the whole day in this classroom with those people I don’t understand.’ I think pretty fast they had friends, and when you have friends, everything changes. They started going and never stopped.

WACOAN: Is Portuguese your native language?

Carol: Yes.

WACOAN: When did you learn English?

Carol: I went to an English school in Brazil for some time when I was a teenager. I kind of relearned it coming here. You learn it from a book, and then you learn it in real life.

WACOAN: Marcell, is Portuguese also your native language? You don’t seem to have an accent.

Marcell: When I was [my kids’] age, my family moved to Chicago, [Illinois,] for my dad to get his Ph.D., so I know what they’re going through. That’s where my English comes from. I was expecting more crying and gnashing of teeth, more agony in the process of cultural adaptation, but they were really good about it. We were impressed with the way they took everything in stride.

And I spent some time on the West Coast. That’s why I don’t have an accent, but it was harder than I thought to develop an academic language that would work and work as fast as I needed it to work for the program. During my first semester my brain was a little tired. Now I feel better. I’m still tired, but not due to that.

WACOAN: Arthur, what do you like to do in Waco?

Arthur: Everything.

WACOAN: Everything?

Arthur: I like to play at the park.

WACOAN: Which park?

Arthur: Poage.

Marcell: And when we take bread, where do we go?

Arthur: To the [Brazos] river.

Carol: And feed the ducks.

WACOAN: Marcell, what interested you in the church music program?

Marcell: A couple of things. I was working in the field. I was the arts minister at a Lutheran church for over a decade. And this is a program that is not very common. I think there are only three or four places that offer Ph.D.s in church music. There are lot of performance degrees, doctoral of musical arts, things like that. I didn’t want a seminary degree. I wanted something that would be in a school of music because my area is composition and performance. It made more sense. Baylor is a well-reputed school of music and had a great program. They had a good scholarship. A lot of different things came together.

WACOAN: Is that what brought y’all to Waco?

Marcell: That is why we came to Waco.

WACOAN: Did you get your bachelor’s and master’s in Brazil?

Marcell: Yeah.

WACOAN: How is Baylor different than your previous universities?

Marcell: Well, I think there’s a big difference coming from a public school to a private school. The Brazilian higher education system is public, so you don’t think about saving for college. You just go to college. Of course, you have to pass a national exam, so it’s not a walk in the park.

I went through the public system with my undergrad and my master’s. I think one of the main differences, the American heritage in higher education is much more in line with the European way of doing things. The relationship between you and your advisor.

The kind of academic writing you do is similar to British writing in the way that you structure your arguments and your papers. I had to adapt when I got here and learn the American way of frontloading your papers. That means having an introductory paragraph, and you say exactly what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it, and then you do it, and in the conclusion you say what you just did and how you did it. The American idea is to get to the point and cut the crap. Now I think I actually prefer it. The distance between point A to point B is a straight line. That just makes more logical sense. You lose some of the flourish, but you get more done. I think that would be the main difference.

And another thing is you have to make things happen for yourself. In Brazil the system is more set in place, and you don’t make as many independent decisions. Getting here, the first week being at Baylor, I realized I was going to have to make the connections that I wanted to make to be able to gain everything I could from being here. That was different.

WACOAN: How are schools here different for your children?

Carol: Well, in Brazil, for kids, public schools are not good. We were in a private school. In Brazil, kids’ school is from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., mornings. So it’s really different. I think the system here, as Marcell said about Baylor, it’s more to the point. They have really lots of programs, social training, skills, and that’s awesome. Even through those fire drills. They’re awesome. They train kids to be citizens. They train kids to love their country. That’s awesome. We don’t even know what is this feeling. Of course, we love our country, but there is no comparing.

Marcell: The patriotic intentionality in the American school system doesn’t exist, not the same way, in Brazil.

Carol: At school they received our kids so nicely, and the teachers spent a lot of time in giving attention to them and talking to us to get the kids to adapt. I love that school.

WACOAN: Where in Brazil did you live?

Marcell: In a city called Curitiba. It’s the capital of Paraná, the third state from the bottom up. The metroplex has 4 million people, something like that.

WACOAN: How long had you been there?

Carol: For me, forever.

Marcell: I was a pastor’s kid, so I moved around quite a bit. I’m from Joinville, a town south of Curitiba.

That’s where we met [in Curitiba]. I got there in ’92, and my family settled there for work. The church where I went as a teenager is where I ended up working.

Carol: That’s where we met and got married.

WACOAN: Carol, what kind of law did you practice in Brazil?

Carol: Property and real estate.

WACOAN: How do you spend your time now?

Carol: First, I used to spend my time as a driver. I would take Marcell to Baylor, then the kids to school. Our youngest is in a pre-K program, so she’s in school half a day. I pick her up, and then I go back to the school and pick up the boys, and then I go back to Baylor. I used to spend all my day doing that. Now I have another way to spend my day. We’re all training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. We go over there [Select Jiu-jitsu] and spend time. And I’ve been working with this international kids’ program at Woodway Elementary.

WACOAN: What do you do at your children’s school?

Carol: They have this English as a Second Language program, and they’re accepting new students from other countries that don’t know the language. They need parents to represent those other parents, so I represent them in meetings to get more information about what’s happening, what kind of program they’re developing for those kids.

WACOAN: You’re a makeup artist now. Did I hear that correctly?

Carol: Yeah. When I got pregnant with my oldest kid, we decided that I was going to take it easy with the law [practice] because it was really stressful to me. Then I started trying some different classes in the artistic world. I learned how to oil paint, then I tried some theater classes. Then I did a lot of volunteer work with missionary trips. Then I got into makeup and hairstyling. I started working first of all with —

Marcell: Producing videos for companies. There has to be a certain kind of makeup. You have to think about the lights, color correction, stuff like that.

Carol: My classes were emphasis on theater and movie makeup. Then I started working with weddings and brides. Then I discovered that working with brides was so intense.

I used to work with a church, so I had tons of discipleship. Then I found a job that I could work as a mission, but not as a mission. Does that make sense?

Marcell: It became a ministry.

Carol: Yeah. I had this moment when I could say, ‘I made something important today,’ even though it was just makeup, there were a lot of things going on. It was really nice, and I had fun.

Marcell: I think Carol has been able to come up with a style that’s her own style, learning from productions. The bridal world is all about glamour and glitz, and I think she was able to transition in a way that was very elegant and maybe not as flashy, but very, very cool. I’m a fan.

Carol: [Laughs.] Thank you.

WACOAN: What do y’all like to do as a family?

Carol: We go to picnics at the park.

Marcell: We train jiu-jitsu. And we like to cook. Having friends over, that’s a big one.

Living in Waco is very different from where we were living. I think you’re always adapting, always adjusting.

Carol: It’s a good thing. Big cities have big problems. They’re more violent. But I really don’t miss living in a huge city anymore.

WACOAN: What do you like about Waco?

Marcell: Learning to live in a smaller city, there’s almost a sense of panic because you miss all the hustle and bustle. After you settle in, I don’t miss the traffic at all. We’re not all that close to Baylor, but you always know how long it’s going to take to get anywhere. I think you settle down into more of a circular community sort of lifestyle.

Carol: Not having traffic is awesome.

I like the sense of community. It’s like everywhere you go, someone talks to you about different churches, and they’re friendly. Christian people are friendly. We’ve met so many friendly people. When we got here, we didn’t know anyone. It was so lonely, and people were so warm to us. They received us so well. We borrowed a car until we had ours. And someone came and brought food. The community is really good here.

Marcell: I think you learn to enjoy the good things that anywhere has to offer. Barbecue is very different. Being able to go down to Coach’s and have some brisket. Brisket is awesome.

WACOAN: How is the barbecue different here?

Marcell: Big cuts. Thick, coarse salt. We don’t have rubs and not a lot of slow roasting. It’s done in a fire pit. There are two things I would say we miss from Brazil, fresh fruit and meat. We love meat.

And Baylor is awesome. The campus is great. The sense of community at Baylor is really good. I enjoy the Dancing Bear [Pub] immensely. Being able to get out of class and stop there and get a beer. It has a really cool vibe to it.

WACOAN: Was it a big change coming from a city of 4 million to a city the size of Waco?

Marcell: It was a big change. Brazilians and Americans relate to each other in a very different way.

WACOAN: How so?

Marcell: Brazilians are more hands-on.

Carol: I would say the bubbles are different. You know, the bubbles that you have around you, your personal space. Brazilians are a lot closer. Americans are out to here, not so close as Brazilians.

WACOAN: Hands-on, meaning?

Marcell: You touch. You hug. You kiss everybody. Even if I meet a woman, if somebody introduces us, I’ll give her a kiss on the cheek.

Carol: In a very, very respectful way.

Marcell: If I meet a friend, you always say hi to everybody in the room.

Carol: And you hug.

Marcell: And you hug, and you personally greet. And I know if we had moved to another part [of the United States], it would have been harder. The fact that Texans are friendly made a difference. That’s been important.

WACOAN: Had you been to the U.S. before you moved here?

Carol: As tourists.

WACOAN: Where had you visited?

Carol: Disney World. We had been to Miami, [Florida]. We went to New York once together.

WACOAN: Marcell, you said you had lived here.

Marcell: We lived in Chicago for four years. I spent a summer working up in New Hampshire, and I spent a couple of months with a group touring the West Coast and Hawaii. It was an initiative of World Vision. It was a 50-person choir that did all sorts of training and humanitarian work and touring.

WACOAN: Had either of you been to Texas before you moved here?

Marcell: Nope.

WACOAN: In Brazil, what was your impression of Texas?

Marcell: I think we had a very stereotypical impression of Texas. Outside of the U.S., every map of the U.S. looks like East Coast, West Coast, Texas. I think there is the impression that Texas is 100 percent Republican, everybody carries a gun and wears a cowboy hat. That’s just not true. It was surprising in a good way to arrive in Texas and feel that Texans are really proud of being Texans. But there’s diversity, there’s conversation. I have to admit we had the stereotyped idea of what it was. It’s not like we thought it was. It’s a lot more interesting than that.

WACOAN: Have you been back to Brazil since you moved to Waco?

Carol: No.

WACOAN: Marcell, when will you be through with your Ph.D.?

Marcell: It’s going to take at least three years. It may take more. It depends on how fast I can write after I’m done with my coursework. We’re not really sure what we’re going to do after I’m done. Our initial plan is to move back to Brazil. That’s going to depend on a lot of things, like job offerings. I think in terms of career, my ideal would be to mix church work and teaching work, which is what I did before. I would like a place where I could be in ministry and also teach at a university.

I miss the professional life. I took awhile between my master’s and my Ph.D. program. I miss the professional environment, the hands-on. In the Ph.D. program I think I read more about the music that other people are making instead of making music.

WACOAN: What kind of music do you make?

Marcell: I’m a classically trained composer/conductor. But I’ve always done rock ‘n’ roll on the side. As a young musician, at least in Brazil, you survive off of any gig you can get. I might be playing classical guitar for a reception at 5 [p.m.] and doing a rock ‘n’ roll gig later in the evening. Or conducting and composing, especially for choirs and church ensembles.

WACOAN: It’s cool that you play across different genres of music. You’re versatile.

Marcell: You have to be. In the church being versatile is more important than being a specialist because you’re going to have to deal with different people, and the musical language of the church is so diverse.

And the other thing is that the era of specialized people might be gone, with changes in the music industry and the role of the internet. Nowadays, you have to at least be a musician and an entrepreneur if you want to get anything done. Most of the musicians I know are also their own recording technicians, recording engineers. There’s a lot of that. The way that things sort of happened in my career, it’s very important to be able to speak more than one language musically and converse with these different traditions, in terms of international music, Brazilian music and how you negotiate your identity.  

WACOAN: What instruments do you play?

Marcell: I play classical guitar, electric guitar, piano. I’m a reasonable percussionist. And I’m a singer. If I could choose, I would write music and conduct it. If I’m on stage, it’s singing and guitar.

WACOAN: What kind of music would you choose to compose and conduct? Classical music? Church music?

Marcell: Those aren’t necessarily exclusive. Most of my conducting has been either classical or in new classical techniques. That’s one of the things I’m continuing to study at Baylor [is] writing for wind ensembles, orchestras, choirs. I have another category of my work, which is congregational songs, which is music to be sung by a congregation. And a third category is pop-rock music. I’ve recorded a couple of albums with a couple of different bands in Brazil. I’m all over the place.

WACOAN: You moved here in August, which is pretty much the hottest month of the year. When it’s summer in Brazil, how hot will it get?

Carol: Not as hot as here in August. It’s about like it is now [about 85 degrees].

Marcell: I remember getting off the plane. Whoa! We said, ‘When does it start getting better?’ [People said,] ‘October. November.’

WACOAN: What’s the best event in Waco y’all have attended so far?

Carol: I think for [the children], it was Halloween.

We don’t have Halloween in Brazil. They were super, super, super excited, going out and knocking on doors. It was awesome for them.

And we went to an event, a fall festival at the [Carleen Bright] Arboretum, and they loved it.

Marcell: And they like the [Cameron Park] Zoo. And Pints in the Park was a great event I went to recently.

WACOAN: Where do y’all go to church?

Marcell: We go to UBC [University Baptist Church] on Dutton. It was really weird getting to Waco and trying to find a church. The last time I had changed churches was in 1992. We had a very close relationship [with the church in Brazil]; I worked there. Even as a family we had been at our church for nearly 25 years. It was very awkward to come into Waco and shop around. We were very grateful for the folks at St. Matthew Lutheran Church.

Carol: They were really nice.

Marcell: They really embraced us. When we came home, there was food in the fridge. They were really helpful.

This one Sunday we visited UBC and after church, the kids were like, ‘Can we come here? We like it here.’ They kind of adopted the church and made the decision for us. That’s been our church family ever since.

WACOAN: Didn’t one of the churches help you with your housing when you got here?

Marcell: Well, this house belongs to a Baylor professor who is on sabbatical. He goes to St. Matthew [Lutheran]. We rented the house from him, and that’s why we’re moving out now. He’s coming back.

WACOAN: What would be a good date night for the two of you?

Carol: We would definitely go to the movies.

Marcell: Yeah. We would go to a movie and have a beer at the [Dancing] Bear and have a burger.

Carol: Once my mom came to visit, and she stayed with the kids. We had a burger. We didn’t know many places to go. A friend of ours told us —

Marcell: The Health Camp. And when we go out now, we like to go to Coach’s. I went recently to another place, Tony DeMaria’s. I really like it there. The food is really good. The way it’s served, that was wonderful.

WACOAN: How does your family spend a free Saturday?

Marcell: One of the great things when we arrived was the storytelling hour at Barnes & Noble on Saturday morning.

Carol: The kids love it.

Marcell: We wanted a place where we could take the kids and put them in contact with English. They were really friendly. The way that they negotiated that our kids didn’t understand a word that was being said was really elegant. I think on Saturday we sleep in, we have breakfast.

Carol: We usually have a pancake brunch.

Marcell: Those are standard. Waffles or pancakes.

Carol: A typical Saturday in our family is pancakes and Barnes & Noble, then home.

Marcell: Go to the park. I think that’s what a typical Saturday would be. Spending time outdoors.

Visit some friends. Saturday is a great day to have people over or go to somebody’s house. Brazilians have dinner at 8:30 p.m., so it was a bit of an adjustment coming in, being done with dinner at 6:30. We actually like it. In Brazil when you visit somebody, you go, and you stay, and you just stay, and you just stay. You only leave when everybody’s falling asleep. We would have friends over at our house in Brazil, and they would leave at 1 a.m. on a weeknight. We don’t do that here.

WACOAN: Who does most of the cooking?

Carol: Me. I do the daily cooking. I make our sausage, my own jelly, jam, whatever.

Marcell: Our own tomato sauce. Our own bread.

Carol: I cook everything. I prefer to do everything at home.

Marcell: We found that food in the U.S. is more processed. The distance from the farm to the table is bigger. We planted a vegetable garden here so we could have our own spices and vegetables. We actually don’t eat out much, first because we don’t have a babysitter. And second, we like to make our own food. I usually cook when we have friends over.

Carol: Marcell likes to cook the fancy stuff.

Marcell: I’ve been doing a lot with venison lately. Venison is just awesome. It’s healthy. It’s good for you.

WACOAN: Where do you get your venison?

Marcell: One of my Ph.D. colleagues has a ranch down near San Antonio, so last December a colleague got his hunting license and shot a couple of deer. We got some of that deer.

I really like the hunting culture in Texas and the idea of sourcing your own food. That’s very in line with what we prefer. We like the idea of producing our own food and not buying everything ready-made.

WACOAN: Outside of your Ph.D. program, are you reading anything good?

Marcell: I’ve got to tell you, I just finished up work at Baylor this week, and one of my first thoughts was, ‘Thank God. Now I can read for fun.’ But I haven’t read for fun in a year.

WACOAN: How much time do you have off?

Marcell: I’m working at Baylor this summer, so I have a couple of weeks off. I like to read. I’m a voracious reader. I’ll read whatever, whatever’s laying around. What I’m reading right now, which is really good, is a book called ‘The Vinyl Countdown’ [by Travis Elborough] about [music moving] from the LP to the iPod and back again.

When I can, I like to read biographies of artists. I like to read history and theology. I used to read a lot of [theology] for work, but I read it to keep up my spiritual sustenance. And I like fictional history a lot. The only fiction books I’ve read since we got here have been by a guy called Stephen Lawhead. Pretty famous writer who lives in Oxford, [England]. I read eight of his books during the semester.

WACOAN: Biographies of artists. Do you mean musical artists?

Marcell: Not only musical artists but artists in general. Painters. Sometimes I’ll take a time period, say Paris in the 1920s between the wars, and I’ll read about [Ernest] Hemingway and Virginia Woolf and James Joyce to get a feel for that scene, that specific period. And one biography will lead to another. I do that, and I have done that in the past. And that will end up transitioning to political history, world history.

Things are so connected that if you take a string and pull it enough, you’ll come into a whole different realm of knowledge.

WACOAN: Carol, what are you reading now?

Carol: Most of my fun stuff is for kids. Most of my reading is how to educate and how to raise kids. I love to be a mom and all that involves being a mom, even the stressful parts of it. I got a book from a friend in Brazil. It’s [about] how to raise your kids in a different culture. It’s about some missionaries that raised their kids in different countries.

WACOAN: What have you learned that you can apply to your kids?

Carol: It’s kind of scary. Some of those books trying to help you raise your kids are scary. This book doesn’t give me any hope. [It says that] your kids aren’t going to have their own culture. They’re not going to be Brazilian; they’re not going to be American. They’re going to be this mix of stuff. I don’t know if I can learn a lot from that book, or if I can know how to act different with them, respecting their new culture.

WACOAN: If things go as planned, when will you move back to Brazil?

Marcell: 2018 or ’19.

Carol: We don’t know. We sold everything in Brazil. We don’t have anything there, just a couple [of pieces of] furniture, like from grandmas. We have family there and friends, but we don’t have anything we have to go back to.

WACOAN: With both of you being from Brazil, is it important to you that your children have that Brazilian culture?

Marcell: It is for me.

Carol: Some things, yeah.

WACOAN: What things are important?

Marcell: All cultures have the good and the bad. The problem is being able to pick up one without picking up the other. I think that’s true when you change countries. One moment you’re in awe of how cool it is. Another moment you’re thinking, ‘This was way better back home.’ You’re always in that schizophrenia of not knowing exactly how you feel about the thing as a whole. I think it will be important for our kids to have the Brazilian cultural heritage, especially in the terms of how people relate to each other. It’s very rich.

Carol: It does not mean that here is not good.

Marcell: Yeah, I’m not saying that. I’m not saying that one is better than the other. I’m saying that the flavor that the Brazilian culture adds to interpersonal relationships is very unique.

If we stay here, if we move back, we have to think about our family, our extended family. It’s an algorithm, and we just don’t know the answer to that algorithm right now. We’re very confused.

Carol: I think it’s good that we don’t know what’s going to happen.

Marcell: You don’t always have to know.

Carol: No, we don’t.

Join the Conversation