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Letter 7: My Portuguese Teacher From High School

January 7, 2011

Portuguese Postal Services, just thought it fit well in this blog

A couple of months ago we had a team building activity at work where we each had to present ourselves. One of the things we had to say was: “Who is important in your life”. As everyone else, I of course said “friends and family” but I also added teachers to the list. I have had a lot of great teachers and as you will see quite a few of the letters I’m going to send will be addressed to teachers.

First a little background information: I was born in Brazil but never lived there and my native language is not Portuguese. Growing up I have always been interested in knowing more about “my” country (after all I do still have a Brazilian passport); but it is hard to truly understand a culture when you have almost no contacts with it and don’t speak the language.

Then in high school I finally had the opportunity to learn Portuguese, but I didn’t take it. I instead chose a computing class I had no interest in because a friend of mine told me to take it. Two lessons here: #1 you know what you want, not the people around you, so don’t let their opinion influence your decisions too much, and #2 this holds true even if you secretly have a crush on the person giving you advice. As my former roommate once told me “If you live according to other’s opinions, you might someday realize that you do not know nor like who you are”. But I digress.

Had I not spent a year abroad I would probably have kept going like that, thinking I would learn Portuguese at some point later in my life, and regret it now. But that year gave me the necessary distance to know what I wanted.

And now let me tell you about motivation. When you want something bad, you know it because you’re willing to do things you’d not even consider otherwise. I bought a learning method (which is more like a small book and a tape… old school I know) and spent my summer trying to teach myself rudiments of Portuguese. It’s hard when you’re 16 to find discipline to study when all your friends are playing outside or resting from a long day of volleyball camp. But I had a purpose (now that I think of it I don’t know if I’ve had that kind of motivation for anything since then).

Above all, the hardest part was going to class the first time. It was a small group of students who all already knew each other, and who were a year more advanced than I was. I’m not extroverted now but back then I was super shy, yet I still managed to go up to the teacher, explain my situation, and ask her to let me join the class. She did on the condition that my first grades were at the same level as the other students. I accepted the deal and soon realized I didn’t know anything. I was speaking in Spanish, couldn’t pronounce words correctly, and had no idea what the texts we were reading were about. My future in this class looked bleak.

Usually I would have found a dozen reasons not to follow through but you know about my motivation. The teacher really did her best to integrate me, she was passionate about the Portuguese world and that really is the number 1 thing when you want to be interesting: be passionate about what you talk about. During the two years of having class with her I learned a great deal about Portuguese speaking countries, their histories, etc. I would so love to visit Luanda or Mozambique for example.

The streets of Lisbon, my new daily walks

Portugal has a really interesting history. This small country dominated the oceans and the world in the 1500s, and they have the most interesting revolution, the Carnation Revolution, particular by the fact that it was organized by the military and that they did not use direct violence to take power. I strongly recommend the movie April Captains, by Maria de Medeiros, if you can find a version in your language.

5 years after taking this class, I found a job because I speak a little Portuguese, and my company sent me to Lisbon. Though I admit this is not my dream job and would rather be doing anything else, the experience of living every day in Portugal, eating out in little traditional restaurants, or walking in historical places is great and a unique opportunity.

That’s why I wrote to my Portuguese teacher. Her classes were great, I loved going to them. And for the record, when you love what you do, things do become a lot easier: I finished the class with the best grades.


From → Blog

  1. Hi,
    It is amazing the amount of young people that do tend to follow someone else, and end up losing themselves, this happens all the time unfortunately, good on you for finally looking for what you want.

    I would love to see Portugal, also a few other places over there, as I’m a lover of History, maybe one day, I’m an Aussie, and we really are “The land Down Under.” 🙂

  2. Thanks for taking the time to drop me a line here!

    It’s funny because I’ll be going Down Under next month, we could trade places 😉 You’d love Portugal for sure, so much history here (well, as in a lot of European countries).

  3. That was really good. I felt I was somewhere else… Will come back and read more. 🙂

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mar Português – Fernando Pessoa « 101 Letters and Lessons Learned
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