Alexandre Melo was named Filipe at birth. When he was four months old, he survived a battle with severe asthma and was re-named Alexandre, which means “The Great” or “The King.”

“In that case, I was that ‘Great,’ or that ‘King’ that overcame death,” Melo said.

Alexandre stands in front of the ocean

Alexandre stands in front of the ocean. Photo credit: Alexandre Melo

Melo is from Beira, Mozambique, a city with a population of over 500,000 people. “Beira” means “by the ocean.” When his family wanted fresh shrimp, Melo walked 5 minutes from his house to the ocean.

Melo related other aspects of his childhood.

“I was raised up in a really tough family; my parents were very strict,” Melo said. “From my childhood, I started cooking, taking care of my brothers and sisters, helping them with homework and taking them to school. I started to do everything.”

The Melo family at the beach in 2010

The Melo family at the beach in 2010. Photo credit: Alexandre Melo

He and his siblings walked to school together each day.

His father learned Spanish and taught Melo and his siblings to speak the language at a young age. Spanish is one of six languages that Melo speaks fluently.

Melo explained more about what his parents taught him.

“I never mess around with school, because of my parents,” Melo said.

He also didn’t have the chance to act like a typical teenager.

“After everything (at school), I had to sit with them, and I had to tell them what I learned, every day,” Melo said. “If your exercise book is empty, that’s a problem. So you couldn’t like, actually skip school.”

His relationship with his parents remains strong.

Alexandre's parents, Dauce and Ana

Alexandre's parents, Dauce and Ana. Photo credit: Alexandre Melo

“If you are respectful, your parents will treat you very well. You will learn wisdom,” Melo said.

Melo and his family met the missionaries when he was 11 years old. His dad was a boxer and met the missionaries on the street as he returned home from work.

“The missionaries put his name at the bottom of the list,” Melo said.

Melo recalled his feelings and apprehensions about meeting the missionaries.

“I felt the spirit the very first day,” Melo said. “But I accepted to read the Book of Mormon because I wanted to prove Joseph Smith wrong.”

After a few months of meeting with the missionaries, Melo knew that what they taught was true. He and his family were all baptized on the same day; March 23, 2012.

Alexandre (boy on the right) and his family on their baptism day

Alexandre (boy on the right) and his family on their baptism day. Photo credit: Alexandre Melo

Melo continued to learn from the Church and his parents. In Mozambique, many parents choose to teach their children through proverbs and adages. Melo explained some of his favorite teachings from his father.

“(One was) ‘Never buy fuel for a car that you won’t use.’ My favorite is ‘Enjoy your youth and never lose focus,'” Melo said. “Youth is the best stage of a human being. You need to enjoy it as much as you can but never lose your direction.”

Melo also explained some of the customs of his country.

“In Mozambique, marriage is a huge party,” Melo said. “Before even traditional marriage, you have to tell your parents and her parents just that you are dating.”

When a man wants to marry a woman, his parents must pay the girl’s parents. The girls’ parents will make a line-up with four to five girls that look similar to their daughter, from which the man’s parents must choose the right girl.

“If they get it wrong, they have to pay more money and then the girls switch around,” Melo said.

Girls learning about life experiences

Girls learning about life experiences. Photo credit: Alexandre Melo

Melo recalled more about Mozambiquan weddings.

“You dress in traditional Mozambiquan clothing, made of Capulana,” Melo said. The family of the bride does “Lobolo,” a type of dowry, where they write a list of things they want in the marriage ceremony and afterward.

“Some people are wicked, they can give you seven lists,” Melo said.

The gifts are seen as a representation of the man’s love for his fiancé.

Alexandre's parents on their wedding day

Alexandre's parents on their wedding day. Photo credit: Alexandre Melo

The day after the wedding is a large party.

“There are drums and music, it is so cool,” Melo said. “It is a huge party, we don’t mess with weddings.”

Melo also expressed some of the everyday cultural differences he noticed after moving to Rexburg.

“My biggest concern here is the communication, just speaking with people,” Melo said. “In my culture, you know everybody in your town, no matter how big the town is.”

“I feel like a lot of people (here) are losing their capacity for communication,” Melo said.

Melo looks forward to learning more and meeting new people during his time at BYU-Idaho.

Alexandre holding a snake

Alexandre holding a snake. Photo credit: Alexandre Melo

“Good people are what I value the most in my life,” Melo said. “We will laugh together. If you want to cry, we will cry together. Because that’s what makes me happy.”