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Opening Doors to Portugal

Portugal awards annual grant to BYU’s College of Humanities.

Portugal is a vibrant country teeming with culture and history. Unfortunately, many Portuguese speakers have never visited the country and know little about Portugal—they were raised in another Portuguese-speaking country or learned the language as heritage learners from their parents, through study at a university, or from travel. Naturally, the Portuguese government would love to build connections between their country and Portuguese-speaking others. As part of an effort to create those bonds, this past fall the Portuguese government awarded an annual grant to BYU and three other universities to support study abroad programs to Portugal and Portuguese language study programs.

Portugal chose BYU for this honor in part because of its high number of Portuguese-speaking returning missionaries. Most missionaries learn Portuguese serving in countries other than Portugal, including Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, and Cape Verde. And while many missionaries return home having developed a love of the culture and language of their mission country, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a desire to create connections to another country where the same language is spoken, even if it is the country of the language’s origin. The new grants provide funding to encourage Portuguese speakers who learned the language elsewhere to come learn about and hopefully fall in love with the culture of Portugal.

In early November, Portuguese officials invited language leaders from BYU, the University of Utah, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Rutgers University to come to Portugal to sign documentation for the grants given to each university. J. Scott Miller, dean of the College of Humanities, represented BYU. During the grant awarding ceremony, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Augusto Santos Silva spoke about his hopes for the future as US students come to better understand Portugal and its rich culture. Dean Miller described his trip as “a cementing experience for relations between BYU and Lisbon University, the Portuguese government, the Camões Institute, and the Luso-American Development Foundation”—the latter two being the primary grant sponsors.

The delegation visited several academic institutions and archives in Lisbon, which included viewing historical letters from US President Abraham Lincoln to the Portuguese King Dom Luís I, in which he declared his good friendship, mirroring the general good will that has existed historically between Portugal and the US. The dean also spent time at the Camões Institute, which promotes Portugal’s culture internationally. The Institute is named after the famous Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões (1525-1580), whom many consider to be the Shakespeare of Portugal.

Through the grant, BYU students will be able to embrace and learn from Portugal’s rich cultural traditions and improve their language skills, opening doors of friendship that will strengthen personal and institutional relationships for years to come.