Portuguese has changed the trajectory of Laura Henschel’s life in ways she never thought possible. The struggle to learn this beautiful language has given her much, from enduring friendships to career skills to life lessons. “Learning a second language is the best thing I have done in my life,” Laura writes.
Laura started learning Portuguese at the age of 16, when she spent a high-school year in the Northeast of Brazil as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. She not only learned this new skill — the ability to communicate with over 200 million people in their language — but also broadened her view of the world. She decided that her goal in college would be to get to know more about others.
When Laura entered UF, she got involved with the Portuguese conversation club Bate Papo — which is where she met Andréa Ferreira. Andréa convinced Laura to take just one class with her in order to keep practicing her Portuguese, and the rest just fell into place. She began taking more and more courses, getting involved in Portuguese-to-English tutoring, in BRASA, the Brazilian Student Association at UF, and in other activities and events involving Portuguese. Now, Laura is pursuing a second degree in Portuguese Studies, along with her degree in Public Relations.
This spring, Andréa offered Laura the opportunity to join a brand-new project — a partnership between UF and AcheiUSA, the largest Brazilian newspaper in the U.S. Along with Giovanna Breda Kubota, a Brazilian student studying journalism at UF, they began a biweekly column for the newspaper detailing their complementary perspectives of life at UF. Their columns range from highlighting Brazilian organizations on campus, to interviewing students, to reporting on the Admissions Office, to living in Gainesville, with more topics to come.
Portuguese has made Laura a more understanding communicator — as a professional, as a student, and as a human being. She feels fortunate to be able to share a connection with Portuguese speakers, to quite literally “speak their language” and understand their culture and way of life. Her language skills also improve her prospects in the job market, as several international companies are now possibilities for her future. In addition, learning Spanish, and possibly other Romance languages, has become a much more attainable goal.
Eventually, Laura hopes to use her voice in support of projects she feels passionate about, like women’s rights in Brazil, Portuguese-language communications in the media, and the message of diversity and inclusion for immigrants.