In February I discovered that I lived down the block from the Alliance Française and was suddenly inspired to learn French. I went in to find out about prices for the language classes and found them to be a little bit steep, but I still wanted to learn another language. I found out that my university, UNSa, has a Centro de Lenguas, or Language Center, that’s associated with the university but separate from normal courses. Undergraduate and graduate students get a discount for the language courses, so it ends up being 120 pesos (or $15 per month) for a class that’s 3 hours per week. They offer Italian, English, French, German, and Portuguese. As soon as I saw that Portuguese was an option, I jumped at the chance. It’s so similar to Spanish and my friends Kyla and Loni from Lago del Bosque camp both speak Portuguese. I’ve thought about picking up Portuguese for awhile now but just never had the time, and language classes in the US are so expensive! So I signed up!
In April I went to my first day of class and I was pretty terrified. I found the classroom, walked in, and took a seat somewhat near the back. The professor showed up 15 minutes late (typical) and started to talk to us about the class policies and expectations. Then we moved onto the alphabet and phonetics. She introduced all of these phonetic rules to us. Immediately I was overwhelmed and started to worry that I had picked too difficult a language. In Spanish, the letters always sound the same no matter where they are in the world. But in Portuguese, the pronunciation can change pretty significantly!
After class on the second day, I told my professor that I was from the United States. I wasn’t sure if I should tell her that or not, because i don’t want to be treated differently because of the fact that Spanish isn’t my native language. But at the same time, I also wanted her to be aware that I was learning Portuguese through Spanish through English in a way. A few classes later it came out that I was clearly not Argentine when we did our family unit.
She asked me the name of my sister and I said “Katie.” She tried to pronounce her name like 10 different times and still couldn’t get the vowel sounds right. I laughed and said “This unit is going to be difficult because all of my family has English names.” Then a student asked if I was not Argentinean! I felt successful for “seeming” Argentinian all that time. As the weeks went on, I felt more and more comfortable in class and formed friendships with some of my classmates. I could ask them questions when I didn’t understand things. They would ask me questions about myself, about the US, about English. One of the women in my class, Graciela, has become a great friend of mine and we always take the bus back from class together and we talk the entire ride.
I’ve been getting 9s (out of 10) on my Portuguese quizzes so far, which is really good! They tend to grade harder here than in the states, so getting a 9 is a big deal, whereas in the US I would be disappointed with a 90%. We have our “parcial” (midterm) on Tuesday and I’ve been studying so much because I really want to get a 10! One of the most amazing things to me is how fast we’re able to move because Spanish and Portuguese are so closely related. For example, we learned the present progressive (I am verbing) AND the immediate future (I am going to verb) in the same day. When I teach Spanish in the USA I spend at least a week on each of those tenses! I made flashcards on Quizlet to help myself study and we’ve covered 410 different vocabulary terms in the last 3 months!
My love of the Portuguese language inspired me to look into Fulbright grants to Portugal or Brazil. My friend Loni is currently an English Teaching Assistant in Bahia, Brazil, and is having a great experience (despite getting dengue fever a few weeks ago… the problems with living in a humid costal town). My friend Elijah is an English Teaching Assistant here in Salta, and my friend Kate has a Fulbright Research Grant for Salta. My friend Adam just won an English Teaching Assistant grant for Barranquilla, Colombia. And my friend Tori won an English Teaching Assistant grant for Germany. All of these people in my life have won Fulbrights, and I’ve started to realize that my dream of winning one of the grants could easily become a reality.
I was sitting in a restaurant/café with my friend Kate one Saturday afternoon and started talking to her more about the application. She convinced me that she thinks I have a great chance of winning, so I went to the website and started my application. Thanks for the inspiration, Kate! I decided to apply for Portugal, which only has two English Teaching Assistantship grants available for October 2014- June 2015. Brazil has 120 grants, but the academic year there is February/March 2015 through December 2015. Because I return from Salta in December 2014, I do not want to wait around until February 2015 to leave again, although the chances of me winning for Brazil are clearly much higher than Portugal. Portugal is also a safer country, and I absolutely fell in love with it when I visited in 2010 while I was studying abroad in Spain.
The language is different and I am learning Brazilian Portuguese here in Salta, which might make it a difficult adjustment when/if I arrive in Portugal. But I am so excited for this opportunity and have been working on my application very hard. I would be teaching English at a university in Portugal and also teaching US culture classes and helping out the Fulbright Commission there. I’ve written 3 different versions of one of the essays already and am still not satisfied — it’s a huge process summing down your life into one page, single-spaced. I have until September to submit my application to Marquette. I will interview with Marquette, and from there they will send my application to Fulbright. I really hope that I win because this will be an amazing opportunity and will allow me to become truly trilingual! So keep your fingers crossed!