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“I wasn’t the kind of child who grew up saying, ‘I want to be this or that when I grow up.’ I fell into teaching. It kind of found me,” said RIC elementary education major Liana Viveiros.

Viveiros went about choosing a major the way most freshmen go about it – she sat in on some education classes and found that she liked them. Figuring in her lifelong love for the Portuguese language, she connected the dots and decided to major in elementary education, with Portuguese as a teaching concentration. Only RIC had no concentration in Portuguese for ed students. That meant Viveiros and her peers would have to advocate for one.

“I emailed the chair of the elementary education department and just kept pushing for this concentration. I said, ‘Spanish is a concentration. French is a concentration. Why not Portuguese?’ ”

Within a year, Rhode Island College created the program. 

Viveiros' career choice was strengthened when, through the urging of Lisa Godinho, former RIC professor of Portuguese, she applied to the RIC Study Abroad Program.

She chose a school on the island of San Miguel in the Azores, where her parents were born. It’s one of nine islands off the mainland of Portugal.

“It’s the largest island, with beautiful beaches and volcanic rock,” Viveiros said. “My father was born in a fishing village in San Miguel.”

Though she had taken trips to the island with her parents before, (her grandmother still lives there), she had never gone alone.

“It was a turning point in my life. I saw the island in a way I had never seen it before. After that trip, I felt as if I could enter a teaching career wholeheartedly. In fact, I felt as if I could do anything. Leaving my parents was the hardest thing I could do, but by week two, I was a different person. I found my own strength,” she said.

Through the encouragement of Silvia Oliveira, RIC professor of Portuguese, in the fall of 2012, she applied for a paid teaching position at Escola Portuguesa da Casa dos Acores da Nova Inglaterra in East Providence.

For the first time, Viveiros would put her elementary education courses and her love of Portuguese into practice.

“Escola Portuguesa was started because parents wanted their children to be brought up to speak their native language,” she said. “The school offers Portuguese classes on Saturday mornings and Monday evenings for children ages five to 12.

RIC student Liana Viveiros

“I wish I had taken a class like that as a child. I grew up being too shy to speak Portuguese. I’d get really discouraged if I said something wrong.”

Lately she has felt a pull to return to San Miguel to live. “I love the dialect, the unique humor, the traditions and folkloric dances. I love the Portuguese values of family first and respect for one’s elders. We respond to our parents with ‘Yes, father. Yes, mother.’ And my maternal grandparents, who live next door to us, tell us that they live for us – their grandchildren.”

However, there’s an equal pull for Viveiros to stay in the states, where her brother and his wife recently had a son. “And I’ve made all of these life-changing connections through RIC’s Modern Languages Department,” she said. “I love walking through the halls of Craig-Lee and hearing all these different languages being spoken. I love speaking to my peers after class in Portuguese. The environment at RIC feels like home.”

Her professors speak as highly of Viveiros.

“Liana is a brilliant student,” said Oliveira. “She has a passion for education, she seeks opportunities to gain experience in her field and she has a genuine desire to impact the education of the children in our community.”

Recently the education major was appointed student representative for the Community Board of the Institute for Portuguese and Lusophone World Studies at Rhode Island College. She has also joined the RIC Sigma Chapter of Phi Lambda Beta Portuguese Honor Society.

To complete her degree, Viveiros hopes to student teach at the International Charter School in Pawtucket. There, parents can choose to send their children on a Spanish and English path of learning or a Portuguese and English pathway.

“I want to be there when the light bulb goes on a child’s heads,” Viveiros said. “I want to be the catalyst for that. I know, now, that I was meant to be a teacher.”