by Cheyenne McLeod
Sixteen Portuguese students along with two chaperones departed from the Boston-Logan International Airport on April 11 to visit São Tomé, a small island in central Africa, followed by Lisbon, Portugal. Their 11-day trip was filled with many new experiences, and students were pushed beyond their comfort zone.
World Language teacher Anibal Jose Ribeiro Serra was one of the two chaperones on this trip. He previously lived in São Tomé and taught sophomores, juniors and seniors at the school there for a year. Some of his former students, now in college, served as tour guides in Sao Tome.
Serra often shared personal experiences from his life there with his Portuguese students, notably Julia Lima and Meghan Brennan, and because of those stories, they both pushed for a Sao Tome trip. Serra spent one year planning the trip and fundraising for it. They raised around $8,000.
After fourteen hours of travel, the group arrived at the Sao Tome International Airport. Their activities included visiting various cultural and historic museums, visiting an old colonial plantation where they spoke to local children, visiting elementary schools, interacting with various organizations and even getting surf lessons.
Upon arrival, they visited an art museum called CACAU (Casa Das Artes Criação Ambiente Utopias). On their third day in São Tomé, they visited a local kindergarten, where they spent the day speaking in Portuguese, reading, singing and dancing with the kids. The students observed the work of a local organization (HELPO), which sponsors those kindergartners and focuses on nutrition projects and contributing within the school system.
“The contact with the elementary students was a very special day,” Serra said.
Students got plenty of opportunities to use what they had learned in Portuguese class. “The whole time we were in Sao Tome, most of the people didn’t speak English. Some of the tour guides knew a little bit. All of the interactions were Portuguese,” Brennan said.
Many of the students experienced things on the trip that they had never done before. “We also camped on the beach for two nights at a beach called Praia Jale, and that was fun because I had never been camping before and most of us hadn’t,” Brennan said.
During their stay on the isolated beach, they watched marine biologists hatch and release sea turtles in efforts to save them from extinction.
Food was also a favorite part of their trip.
“The food was amazing. Actually it was a very nice thing to experience because I was expecting for it to be hard to eat fish every day, and everything is so natural and fresh, they all liked it, even the ones who never had fish in America,” Serra said.
“We had plantains for lunch and dinner every day. I loved the food,” Brennan said.
Overall, students had glowing reviews of the trip. “It’s just a really beautiful country, and everyone was very welcoming to us,” Brennan said.