Brazilians thrive at BYU’s English Language Center

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Editor’s note: This story pairs with another titled “Utah continues to attract Brazilians learning English to boost job prospects.” 

Rebeka Pires poses with her friends from the ELC outside a home with a Brazilian flag in Utah. (Rebeka Pires)
Rebeka Pires, left, is one of 18 students from Brazil who studied at the English Language Center in Fall 2016. She stands with a friend from the English center, middle, and a friend who served in Brazil, right, outside a home in Provo. (Rebeka Pires)

Cláudia Roque, 54, sits in a classroom on the second floor of the English Language Center. She is surrounded by students from all over the world who came to Provo for the same reason: to learn English in an uplifting environment. 

Roque worked at a bank in Brazil for 28 years. Seven months ago, she retired and moved to Utah with her daughter, Alice. Roque enrolled at the ELC, a BYU lab school where TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) graduate students teach students English, while Alice attended Timpview High School.

Cláudia Roque and her daughter
Cláudia Roque, right, and her daughter Alice, left, pose in front of BYU. Claúdia and Alice are living their dream of studying in the U.S. (Cláudia Roque)

“I can expand my chances of doing things,” Roque said. “The things I will learn here can help me in my country and help other people. It’s very important because we can do something. We can learn something.”

Roque plans to finish her courses at the ELC after the 2017 summer semester. Her goal is to score high enough on the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) to get into BYU and study art. She is also interested in taking glassblowing classes at the University of Utah.

“I want to do something that I love and I love art,” Roque said. “I want to do something like this in my life. It’s very interesting.”

Sandy Hatchett is Roque’s student-life advisor at the ELC and helps all 250 students navigate their experience so they can be as successful as possible.

Sydney Jorgensen
Demographics of students and Brazilian students studying at the English Language Center during Fall 2016 according to information provided by student-life advisor Sandy Hatchett (Sydney Jorgensen)

“From where I’m sitting, the Brazilians do very well,” Hatchett said. “They are generally positive, culturally positive, gregarious, larger-than-life people. They live big. Because of their friendly nature, they draw people into their circle of influence.”

Hatchett said because of the Brazilians’ personalities, they are not commonly among students needing counseling services. They are also leaders and well represented in the ELC activity committee.

“Even though they are tight among themselves and have a lot of national pride, they are also very open to other people and other cultures,” Hatchett said. “Because of that cultural openness, they don’t internalize as many worries and emotional things. That’s just my observation.”

Hatchett said students around the world come to learn English at the ELC due to “the safety net because of the church and honor code.” Like Roque, many plan on furthering their American education at a church school or other university.

Students also come because they want to be more marketable for employers by adding English to their skill set. Other students have personal motives, including connecting with English-speaking family members, being eligible to serve an English-speaking mission or even working for the LDS Church someday.

“I’ve had some students say they come to learn English because it’s the language of the Restoration,” Hatchett said.

Students at the ELC are placed in one of 15 mixed-ethnicity classes based on their English level and begin an intensive language program.

“We teach them how to be good students, American-style students,” Hatchett said. “We have a unique education culture here in America. Besides giving them English, we prepare them for the education culture they will encounter as they move out of the ELC.”

It’s this American-style education the Brazilians are seeking — an education in a safe, LDS church-sponsored environment.

Rebeka Pires
ELC student Rebeka Pires visits Temple Square in Salt Lake City, a must-see destination for many Brazilians. (Rebeka Pires)

Rebeka Pires, 18, traveled to the US for the first time five months ago to enroll at the ELC. A native from Manaus, Brazil, Pires hopes to apply to a church school after another semester.

While Pires was attending high school, or ”ensino médio” in Brazil, her family stopped attending church and didn’t want her to go anymore. She became depressed and often prayed for help.

“One day I opened my notebook and I looked for BYU,” Pires said. “I didn’t know why, but I thought, why not try? I needed to come here.”

Pires said her family was her motivation for coming to Utah to learn English, though she knew it would be an expensive sacrifice. However, the spiritual benefits felt by both her and her family has made the sacrifice worth it.

“I come here to learn English, but not only this, but for my family,” Pires said. “Now my family returned to the church because I am here. This strengthened my family and helped them return to church.”

Marina Martin, 18, from São Paulo, is studying to become a cardiologist.

“If I have English in my resume, I will be able to have big opportunities,” Martin said. “I can use English to improve my life.”

Martin took four years of private English classes before coming to the U.S. eight months ago, yet she still struggled to speak and form sentences.

Mariana Martin
Brazil native Marina Martin stands in front of the ELC after the first snowfall of the season. Snow is a rare sight for many Brazilians. (Marina Martin)

“I was able to speak really well after one semester (at the ELC),” Martin said “For me it was like, ‘wow, I didn’t think I was able to do that.’”

After struggling at a school in Brazil where she was the only Mormon, Martin enjoyed being around so many members of the church in Provo.

“I don’t have to worry about this kind of stuff anymore,” Martin said of the lower standards she saw in Brazil. “Now I’m comfortable. For me, it’s really good.”

Martin finished her second semester at the ELC and traveled home in December to start medical school at the University of São Paulo. Learning English in the U.S. was a springboard for her future academic plans.

“After we die, it’s the only thing we get with us,” Martin said, referring to her favorite scripture talking about the importance of knowledge. “So this is important to me. I’m learning English. My future language will be Spanish. And after this, I will keep on going.”


Listen to an audio mix of Brazilian ELC students and their perceptions of American culture.

 

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