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Portuguese language students reap prestigious opportunities thanks to dedicated faculty


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February 05, 2024

When Arizona State University graduate Max Courval first started taking Portuguese classes his sophomore year of college, he couldn’t have imagined all the opportunities and experiences the Portuguese program would provide him, from unique study abroad trips to professional success.

Christ the Redeeer statue in Brazil.
Image courtesy the School of International Letters and Cultures

Today, Courval is working toward a master's degree in Latin American studies at the University of Utah, where he also manages the university’s study abroad programs. Thanks to scholarships and mentorship from dedicated faculty, Courval and other students like him are reaping the benefits of the ASU Portuguese program, offered by the School of International Letters and Cultures.

Courval’s story

After falling in love with Portuguese, Courval applied for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which gives Pell Grant recipients interested in national security and economic prosperity opportunities to study abroad. The scholarship base amount was $5,000 and included a Critical Need Language Award of $3,000, given to applicants studying languages such as Portuguese, which are valuable to the United States’ national security and prosperity. Courval was selected and chose to study abroad in Lisbon, Portugal.

Following his study abroad, Courval felt confident enough to apply for the Critical Language Scholarship, a scholarship he had applied to in the past but didn’t receive. The second time around, he felt more equipped because of the outstanding Portuguese faculty, specifically Assistant Professor Ligia Bezerra and David William Foster, who he says supported his goals and challenged him to think differently.

“Thanks to achieving intermediate fluency at ASU and a subsequently advanced level of fluency while abroad in Portugal, I was a much more competitive candidate,” Courval said.

In order for Courval to afford his master’s program and continue studying Portuguese and Brazilian culture after ASU, he applied for and received the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS), which allowed him to study abroad for a summer in São Paulo, Brazil, and conduct research for his master’s thesis on colonial Brazilian history.

He is grateful for the Portuguese program at ASU, as it helped him develop the Portuguese language skills needed to secure these various opportunities and continue studying Brazilian and Lusophone culture.

“I am excited to continue working in an international space, and I dream of strengthening ties between the U.S. and Lusophone countries through the transformative power of international education,” Courval said.

Others like him

The ASU Portuguese program also helped open numerous doors for Justin Kopek, who graduated in May 2023. The Boren Scholarship and Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant recipient appreciated his professors’ willingness to help with advanced placement, ensuring he had the tools to be successful.

“The professors in the Portuguese program helped me with both of these applications, providing feedback on my application essays as well as performing the language assessments required for both scholarships,” Kopek said.

According to the Boren Awards website, the scholarship is awarded to undergraduate students who have an interest in studying abroad in countries that are “critical to U.S interests.” The amount of money awarded to students is based on the duration of their program. The Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant is for students who want to work abroad as language teaching assistants. According to the Fulbright website, scholarship recipients work around 30 hours per week in classrooms organizing different activities with students related to U.S culture and the English language.

“Both Goodman and Bezerra were super helpful and have opened up numerous opportunities for me,” said Kopek, who will be continuing his Boren Scholarship in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this month.

In March, Kopeck will fulfill his Fulbright Scholarship by teaching English at the Federal University of Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais. He is especially grateful for his professors’ willingness to assist him in his professional development and plans to pursue a career in foreign policy or academics with a focus on Latin America.

ASU graduate Madeleine Ryan also received a Boren Scholarship and is currently fulfilling her service requirement for the scholarship in Brazil, working as a foreign service officer at the U.S. embassy.

It meant a lot to Ryan to have the opportunity to experience Brazilian culture firsthand and immerse herself in the language for a year to improve her Portuguese. Her favorite part of ASU’s Portuguese program is how enthusiastic the professors are about the Lusophone world and how much they engage with their students.

“Professors Bezerra and Goodman were very helpful with the application process,” Ryan said. “Professor Goodman interviewed me for my Boren Scholarship. He helped me transform my essays to make me a more competitive applicant. In Professor Bezerra’s class, we discussed Brazilian relations, which helped me in my argument for the national security position of my essay for the Boren Scholarship.”

A fourth student, Miriam Antonieta Carpenter-Cosand, who is currently working toward her PhD at ASU, received the Middlebury Portuguese Teachers Fellowship as a result of the Portuguese program. It meant a lot to her that Bezerra believed in her abilities more than she believed in herself and encouraged her throughout her time in the program.

“I have never known a professor who cares so much, and that makes the entire difference,” Carpenter-Cosand said.

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