Having moved back and forth between Portugal and the United States, I’m familiar with the feeling of outplacement you get when you arrive somewhere new. With it, comes a sense of burden from being expected to start what is optimistically phrased as “a new life”. There’s an urgency to pull yourself together and get with the program, when no-one will step up to explain the rules and pull you in. You look around every day and observe the social motions, and it’s all so fluid it seems effortless. It is not. You see, entering and keeping up with the social pace is a deliberate and everyday effort. Looking around you watch people as they eat, walk, and hang out together. And you see they live, they share, and they speak with each other. You understand wherever there’s a language, there’s a culture, and there’s a bond. And if you don’t get an opportunity to speak the language, the culture remains foreign, and the bond is denied.
But wait, there’s SPEAK. I came across SPEAK while searching for a way to get involved with some affirmative action towards breaking this cycle of “no language means no connection means no inclusion”, and do what – in a sense – other foreigners had done for me. So I found this community called SPEAK, saw the work being done so far and their plans for Porto. I just had to sign up.
After the most inspiring weekend getting to know the team and teachers from all over the world through workshops, activities, dinner and drinks (there was even canoeing the next morning – or so I’ve been told) I knew I was in the right place. Fast forward a few weeks and I was a SPEAK Ambassador. As an Ambassador, you’re given the opportunity and freedom to be an active part of SPEAK’s development in a city. To be someone who represents SPEAK to our local partners, securing better conditions for our students. To let your city know SPEAK is there. To be the link between the SPEAK team and the local teachers. To take an interest in all the classes’ progress and be there for support, if any issues come up. To organize and take part in amazing multicultural events where people from different nationalities gather and share their world. All of this, of course, with super attentive back-up and support from the SPEAK team as you go along.
I can honestly say it’s been one of my life’s most gratifying experiences, and the best use of my time in recent years. As an Ambassador, I found out that the personal investment you give SPEAK, pays itself back many times over, meeting the most interesting, diverse and inspiring people, adding to a cause you believe in, and witnessing it at work every week. You see, here’s why I think SPEAK works: Because the people involved believe in the vision! Their hearts are in right place, their minds are set, and it shows. I saw it on that first weekend, and today I see it passed onto our SPEAKers in Porto. It’s been a great ride so far. There is still, however, a long way to go, and more languages to speak, greater experiences to share, a better culture to live.