A Decision for a Lifetime by Carolina Martins

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My entire life was shaped by a decision made by my parents twenty four years ago.In 1988, my father was awarded an amazing opportunity – a scholarship in order to further his studies, paid by his public job! There was just a little problem… He would have to move to far off Wales, to study at the Bangor University. My mother wasn’t too happy to go abroad for who knew how many years, especially since she spoke very little English and I was only three years old. After a few conversations, she decided thatit would be worth trying, even though we were all very close to her family and would need some time to adapt. She supported my father and we left Brazil three months after he had gone to Bangor to establish himself and get everything ready for our arrival.

 

The flight itself wasn’t too terrible, as far as I can remember, but the arrival left me bewildered. I couldn’t understand a single thing those people were saying! My parents explained that I would learn English, the main language spoken in Bangor. They treated learning as a very good opportunity, not only some temporary necessity caused by our need to live there for a few years. My mother did her best to help me settle down, and by the time kindergarten started, I could even introduce myself properly. Yet I sensed this invisible language barrier, and not many of my new Welsh classmates tried to cross the bridge between us and be friendly. I was actually somewhat relieved when the school started offering us, the little foreigners, some separate lessons – but that relief only lasted until I noticed that while we were studying more English, the local children were having a break and watching the telly!

 

During the following months, despite missing my family, immensely disliking the school’s food and having few friends, I got quite used to Bangor, and more importantly, to English. At first, when I couldn’t communicate as well as I would like to, I drew for the school’s contests. This became an important tool for me, and I kept drawing even as I became fluent – a process that didn’t take long. While I was experiencing all this at school, my mother was helping me at home. She gave me extra classes herself and did everything she could to give me the much needed incentive in my studies in both languages that were an active part of my life. By the time I was four, I had learned to read in English; things clicked together in that language much quicker than they did in Portuguese.

 

This was a major turn-around point for me. As I started reading, I noticed that I really enjoyed it. Perhaps it was some sort of escape valve for my stress, but reading became my main hobby and through it, my English became much better. I soon reached the point where I even began dreaming in that language. Portuguese took the backseat and I discovered, much to my dismay, that I actually liked English. I needed it to communicate, sure – but it had also become “my” language, the language of my imagination, thoughts and plans.

 

We spent almost four years abroad before my father was done with his studies. He went back to his job, my mother got a new one where she could practice her much improved English and I started taking English classes. Until this day, I am very glad that my parents didn’t simply let me idle and stop studying the language since it was no longer vital – the way they dealt with things, immediately looking for an English school while enrolling me in a regular Brazilian school, didn’t allow me enough time to forget anything I had learned.

 

Unfortunately, I finished the advanced course too young and, given the option, I chose not to study English formally anymore in high school. I still read in English, of course, and I watched everything I could without the subtitles, but by the time I was 15, my English was no longer as good as it had once been. My native accent had faded away a long time before and by then my vocabulary had also started to dwindle. Worse, I lost the very firm grasp I once had on certain structures – but I never really lost that ability to “know” that something sounds awkward, grammatically speaking, when it’s wrong. Noticing that my English skills weren’t being used enough, and approaching that time in life when you have to make a career choice that might as well change your whole future, I decided I would go back to studying English in college. When I told my mother this, she was fine with my decision, but couldn’t bring herself to support my possibly becoming a teacher… Which led me to apply for Translation instead.

 

Studying Translation, I became much better at writing than I had been before, and I favored creative writing over all else in precisely the same way I had always favored fiction over all other books. I also became good at translating things quickly and my vocabulary dramatically increased – but it took me less than a year to notice I wouldn’t enjoy living the life of a translator unless I could work solely in certain areas, and that managing to work like this wasn’t very likely. I would much rather do something more dynamic and interesting. I began to feel haunted by uncertainty, and kept to the path I had designed for myself, until one day I admitted that I would prefer to follow my heart and become an English teacher. I started getting part-time jobs on just about anything that let me lose my natural timidity, while still doing freelance translations and studying, so that by the time I finished college I could think of teaching without having to get a different degree. Meanwhile, I forgot something very basic; it didn’t occur to me that I lacked a deep understanding of English grammar or, even more important, that I had never made an effort to learn how to teach.

 

After I left college, I noticed my mistake. I spent a while working with translation, learning how to deal with clients and wondering if I should get a Teacher’s Degree or try to learn how to be an effective teacher through practice. I remembered my past teachers, the good and the bad, and came to the conclusion that the ones who influenced me the most were the Welsh teachers that had taught the foreign children with creativity, innovation and kindness. I thought that maybe these characteristics had more to do with a person’s own self than with any formally learned knowledge, and set forward to getting a teaching job and learning the rest in any way I could while practicing these qualities I liked so much. Eventually, I arrived at Casa Thomas Jefferson and soon learned more in a month than I had learned in the previous six! This was both a bit frightening and absolutely exhilarating – and it still is. Now I dream of specializing in teaching children and helping them acquire a second language in a way as close as possible to what my old teachers did for me back in Bangor.

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7 thoughts on “A Decision for a Lifetime by Carolina Martins

  1. Dear Carol,

    Your parents’ decision has certainly impacted your life forever, and we are now the lucky ones to have you at Thomas. This is exactly what I did with my kids. 5 years ago my husband had a great professional opportunity to work for the government in the States and we embraced this chance, for we thought that, more than a wonderful experience for us, it would be life changing for my little ones. I’m sure that this international experience has broadened their views and will be with them forever.

    Great vivid piece of writing! Congrats.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Carol. I agree with Carla when she points out that your parents’ decision has impacted your life; however, that was just the first step. In fact, you have been the one responsible for choosing the paths you intend to follow. Regarding your writing, you have made the reader “see” this experience through your eyes, knowing more about the little girl you once were and the adult you have become.
    Carpe Diem,
    Conceição Machado

  3. I loved your story, Carol. Although my story is different from yours, for I didn’t have the chance to live abroad when I was a child, I should also thank my father for the English I speak today. His decision to enroll me in the best English school in the city, Casa Thomas Jefferson, has deeply impacted my life. If I am the professional I am today, I owe it a lot to him.

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