By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Hoping to experience Portuguese culture on a global scale, 14 Hudson High School (HHS) students will travel to the little known African island nation of São Tomé e Príncipe later this year. They will spend 11 days abroad in a study of culture and language that will touch on a number of aspects of life in the country.
While abroad, the group will work with a group of locals helping sea turtles, visit a kindergarten and a high school, donate medical supplies, and spend three nights camping on a beach with a group of marine biologists observing their work.
Seniors Meghan Brennan, Andressa Oliveira and Julia Lima started planning the trip last fall and have continued to contribute as more students have signed up. Oliveira, who will not be going on the trip, has even helped the group put together a website and promotional video.
The students have also been joined in their efforts by Portuguese teacher Anibal Serra who once taught on the island and still has contacts in São Tomé. Indeed it was one of Serra’s lessons that sparked the interest of Brennan, Oliveira and Lima in the first place.
“When you teach a world language, you need to be a little aware of the size of the language in the world,” Serra explained. “So I was telling the class about how the schools were in São Tomé or Southeast Asia [where I also taught] and students Meghan Brennen, Julia Lima and Andressa Oliveira said ‘We should go there.’”
The country of São Tomé sits on two islands just over 100 miles off the western African coast. A former Portuguese colony that only gained its independence in 1975, São Tomé’s inhabitants still almost exclusively speak the Portuguese language.
The island has slightly fewer than 200,000 residents according to the CIA Factbook and includes just one city, its capital – São Tomé. By virtue of the country’s small size, Serra was able to build numerous connections with local citizens while he worked there.
As the trip has come together it has benefited from Serra’s connections as he has been able to use them secure unique opportunities for his students.
“He was able to develop all these relationships and we decided to go there because it looked so cool and amazing,” said junior Gabby Oliveira. “Now, instead of being tourists, because he knows everyone there, we’re going to be integrated into the culture. That will be pretty cool.”
Serra hopes the trip to such a predominantly Portuguese-speaking country will show students the importance of the language they learn in their classes.
“When I was learning English in school, I always felt a little frustrated because, I thought, I live in this small town in Portugal, I will never use English again in my life,” he said. “I was always like ‘why am I learning this?’ But I realize now by experience that you will use that forever. I thought that they should have the experience of using Portuguese in a place where nobody speaks English.”
While the students do experience the Portuguese language, members of the group are also hoping to bring attention to a part of the world that few associate with Portuguese culture.
“Anything international gets attention so I think a lot of people will be interested by [the] Portuguese [language] in Africa,” said Brennen. “A lot of people, including myself, never lined those things up so I think this will bring awareness to the fact that the language is bigger than Portugal or Brazil.”
The Portuguese Overseas group will be hosting fundraisers throughout the year to help its families pay for the trip. The group is also accepting donations through its Go Fund Me page. To donate visit www.gofundme.com/portugueseoverseas. For more information on the group, visit asoliveira2017.wixsite.com/portugueseoverseas.