On the banks of the river Mondego sits Coimbra. If you were spinning a globe, your finger would fall on the centre-west of Portugal, roughly halfway between Lisbon and Porto. Born and raised in this city, 21-year-old Mariana Jose became a founder for SPEAK.
For this feature of #FoundersFriday, we want to acknowledge her tremendous commitment in championing integration in her city.
Mariana is a student of Economics at the University of Coimbra (the oldest in Portugal and one of the oldest in Europe). She was captivated by SPEAK’s mission and decided to cooperate with us, bringing her creativity and marketing expertise along.
Why did you become a SPEAK founder? Since when were you a founder?
In March this year I joined the ESN (Erasmus Student Network) and through it I discovered SPEAK (previously part of ESN). I loved your initiative, I thought that I could give a lot to this project and I wanted to watch it grow.
That is why I decided to apply to be founder of SPEAK Coimbra. I sent a motivational letter to the ESN’s direction and I got selected.
Tell us about the first time you ran a language group in your city – how was it?
This one time a buddy was struggling to keep up with a language group, not showing up at times and communicating poorly. I decided to replace the buddy and keep the group going. That was my first experience and I ended up loving it!
It was amazing to meet new people and their cultures. We shared a variety of memories and fun moments.
Soon I would love to open a Spanish Conversational group to also participate in it and improve my Spanish speaking skills. (Should you be interested in leading it, you are the one Mariana is looking for!)
What is the most rewarding part about being a SPEAK founder?
It’s to know that in each session we help people and we can facilitate their integration in Coimbra. I love this city so much and I enjoy sharing all the traditions, history and numerous facts about it.
What was the biggest challenge you faced, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was also my first challenge: it was my very first session. The original buddy was not as expressive and the participants were not grasping much. Options were to either cancel the group altogether or find a solution. Eventually I stepped up and took over to avoid calling it off.
What impact has SPEAK had on your community?
Inside the community of Coimbra, SPEAK has helped to create a real connection between the city and its people.
Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
Once I was in one session and I heard someone screaming in Portuguese “Fujam, estão assaltar o banco” (Run, they are robbing the bank).
At first I panicked and it took me some seconds to understand what was actually going on.
Some participants were from the Portuguese Basic I group and they did not comprehend what they were actually saying.
Eventually it turned out they were a theatre group. Despite the few seconds of panic, it was pretty funny at the end. To pull it off they even learned some words not in the materials such as “help” and “run away”.
How has being a SPEAK founder impacted your life and what does social inclusion mean to you?
Being a SPEAK Founder has helped me to learn to communicate better with others and become more respectful and aware of them.
To me, social inclusion means helping others because at any time it could be us in need of that same help or affection from other people.
What kinds of relationships/connections have you built with your community?
We definitely managed to connect within the community and create friendships and genuine trust among us.
Support SPEAK Coimbra
Mariana’s story is one of empathy and celebration of the diverse through actively leading integration in her native city. If you want to help scale the impact of SPEAK Coimbra check our website and join our mission or Take SPEAK to Your City. Read also about Yulia, a learner turned leader in Braga.