Critical Language Scholarship Program | Evalyn Knowles

Evalyn Knowles

Evalyn Knowles is an alumna of the CLS Portuguese Program hosted virtually by University of the South of Santa Catarina (UNISUL) in Florianopolis, Brazil. Evalyn Knowles is a third-year Sociology student at the University of Loyola in New Orleans. Evalyn is currently studying abroad at the Universidade de Vigo in Vigo, Spain, where she is continuing her study of Portuguese as well as Spanish. Evalyn plans to work in higher education researching Portuguese language through a cultural and linguistic anthropology lens. She is committed to life-long language learning and hopes to one day live in a Portuguese-speaking country where she can be completely immersed. 

Getting to Know Evalyn 

I am from a very rural area of South-Central Pennsylvania called East Berlin. Almost nobody speaks Portuguese in the very homogenous town where I grew up. However, with extended family from Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Libya, Kazakhstan, and Dubai, I was used to cultural exchange. My summers were filled with sharing U.S. traditions of potlucks and boat days while learning about the traditions of my relatives living abroad. I am grateful for my multicultural background because my family always instilled in me the importance of being open to other cultures. I had a very active childhood doing water sports, running cross country, singing and playing the guitar. My interest in music has most definitely piqued my interest in Portuguese—from Sertanejo, Samba and Brazilian funk to Bossa Nova, Faro and MP—you’ll catch me listening to Portuguese hits. When I graduated high school, I took a gap year with Americorps, and I lived throughout the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico responding to natural disasters. During this time, I learned Spanish and grew a specific interest in learning languages to build connections across language barriers. When I moved to New Orleans, where I now call home, I felt compelled to seriously start studying Portuguese to be a better volunteer English teacher. 

Why Portuguese?

I was first encouraged to study Portuguese because there is a notable Brazilian immigrant population in New Orleans where I volunteer as an ESL teacher. Less than one tenth of Americans speak Portuguese despite it being the sixth most spoken language globally and the national language of nine countries with rich histories and cultures. The disparity in English-Portuguese bilingualism inspired me to learn Portuguese to expand my global perspective. 

Lifelong Connections

During my CLS experience, I participated in a group research project focused on understanding the interconnectedness of culture, languages, and nature. It helped me to deconstruct the colonial influence on Brazil and understand indigenous perspectives on nature. Specifically, I learned about indigenous music in Guarani and wrote and sang a song that was incorporated into our final project. All the members of my group produced an individual form of expression that was incorporated into the project—dance, poetry, linguistic analysis and photography. The results were beautiful and reflected our diverse interests and abilities. The connections that I made with my classmates were meaningful and will last a lifetime. We still meet from time to time on Zoom to catch up—in Portuguese, of course!

Close to Home 

Participating in CLS had a unique influence on my community because I could bring what I learned directly home with me every day. I remember sitting with my brother and mom playing the music my peers recommended to me, cooking escondidas with my grandma and my CLS cohort, and watching movies with my friends originally in Portuguese. I was always able to bring home with me something from UNISUL. CLS not only influenced me and what I brought home to my community but also helped me to find a new community with completely different backgrounds and interests but united by the Portuguese language. Further, as a current study abroad student, CLS has helped me to connect with a community of Portuguese speakers in Vigo, Spain. Here in Spain, I share a perspective that is not only influenced by my life as a student at my university in the U.S. but is also influenced by my time as a CLS participant. My understanding of both Brazilian and U.S. culture and politics has allowed me to have a more enriching experience in Spain. 

Saudade & Untranslatable Love

The Portuguese word saudade means a deep emotional state of profound longing and cannot be translated into any other language. When I first learned about saudade, it clicked with me why Portuguese aligns with me so strongly. Portuguese encapsulates a kind of love and gratitude that exists in no other language. I love the intricacies of the language and the sweet connotation of words like cheirosa, xodó, cafuné, and saudade that are both musical and used in everyday vernacular. Portuguese is a language full of an untranslatable love. I’d recommend learning Portuguese to anyone. It is a language with a rich and diverse history. From the many genres of music to the accredited television shows to literary works by Jorge Amado and Jose Saramago—there is something for everyone to fall in love with in the Portuguese language. 

Achieving the “Impossible” 

When I first told people I wanted to learn Portuguese, they often laughed, telling me that it would be too confusing for my Spanish language comprehension and insinuating that I would not be capable of obtaining my dream of being a polyglot. Today, I live on the border between Spain and Portugal as a foreign exchange student speaking both languages thanks to CLS. CLS is for people who are committed to their passions despite the scoffs and the doubts of others. CLS allows students to go beyond what their academic institutions can provide for them to learn languages that are not commonly spoken or taught within our borders and build a global perspective. My program was full of students from all different backgrounds and experiences, and they truly taught me that no matter who you are or what your goals are, it’s always possible to learn a language. 

Future Goals

Professionally, I currently teach English as a second language and use Portuguese to better understand the challenges learning English that my students face. Moreover, I hope to go into higher education studying linguistics and cultural anthropology. I will use Portuguese in my pursuit of these goals as a global citizen living in countries where Portuguese is spoken such as Brazil and Portugal and conducting research. I plan to be a life-long teacher of my mother tongue, English and learner of Portuguese.

Words of Advice

I will cherish my CLS experience for years to come. I made great life-long connections to fellow Portuguese and found a community of friends and colleagues. If you have the opportunity to participate in CLS, do it! You will not regret it. CLS goes way beyond a classroom language learning experience, even if like me, you end up participating virtually.

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Evalyn Knowles
Evalyn Knowles

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Posted Date

June 27, 2022