In May 2016, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to Porto, Portugal and work as a squash coach for the ‘Escola de Squash do Porto’ (Squash School of Porto). The ‘Escola de Squash do Porto’ operates out of Monte Aventino Sports Club, which is a government-owned, multi-sport complex located in the northeastern part of the city. I assisted the founder and director of the school, Paulo Pinto, in running daily clinics and creating programs to improve the club’s membership. My main goals in travelling to Portugal were to gain proficiency in Portuguese and immerse myself in a Portuguese work environment and culture, through a homestay with the Pinto family.
When I first arrived in Portugal, I feared that I would have trouble communicating with my co-workers and home-stay family because I had yet to experience speaking Portuguese in a native country and because the Portuguese that I learned through taking PORT 1210, 1220, and 2010 at Cornell is Brazilian Portuguese. This is significant because the Portuguese spoken in Europe is very different than the Portuguese spoken in Brazil. Before travelling to Portugal, I knew from my coursework at Cornell that the Portuguese spoken in Europe was much more nasal than Brazilian Portuguese. I noticed this immediately in Portugal when conversing with clients on my first day of work, and another difference I noticed was that in European Portuguese, vowels are frequently “omitted,” in pronunciation, and the emphasis is placed on consonants, which can make a long word sound very short when spoken. Over time, I was able to adjust to this way of speaking, which made my daily interactions with squash students and the members of my host family significantly more enjoyable. Overall, I am grateful for my Portuguese teachers at Cornell, Jura Oliveira and Simone De Lemos, for preparing me to speak in a native country. The Portuguese program at Cornell places a strong emphasis on oral communication skills, and this enabled me to succeed in my job as a squash coach and program facilitator.
My daily work schedule consisted of teaching two clinics -- one in the morning and one in the evening. The morning clinic began around 11:00am, which is when clients would break for their lunch. The morning clinic usually lasted until 1:30pm when the players would leave to go eat in the club’s restaurant. The morning players were generally older men who had the liberty of taking a few hours off from their jobs in the summer to play squash. Most of the players in the morning crowd were at the same level, so it was fairly easy to customize appropriate drills and exercises.
After the morning session, I spent the afternoons exploring the city of Porto. I visited flea markets, museums, historic castles and landmarks, as well as several cafés that served Francesinhas, a local sandwich similar to the French Croque Madame. In the evening, around 6pm, the players of the “Elite Squash Program” began their training with me. This group consisted of top ranked European juniors, professionally ranked players, as well as highly competitive amateur players from Porto and Matosinhos (a nearby suburb). On some occasions, other top ranked Portuguese junior players travelled from different cities to participate in the clinics that I ran. I enjoyed learning about the similarities and differences in how juniors and professionals trained in another country.
Overall, I had an unforgettable trip to Portugal, and my Portuguese improved significantly through teaching squash. I’m very grateful to have had this opportunity, and none of it would have been possible without the generous support from the ILR School and the guidance of Donna Ramil and Miguelina Tabar. Lastly, I am very grateful to the Pinto family for making me feel a part of their family and for enabling me to learn so much about Portugal, the language, and the culture. I hope to visit Porto again sometime in the near future. Até Logo!