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Grad acquires Fulbright—and possibly Portuguese

Shea de Brito is obsessed by language and communication, but in a good way. In a few months she’ll be traveling to Brazil as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, where she will strengthen English language instruction in a federal university as a native English speaker. The grant will provide her with a travel and living stipend, plus a book allowance.

“I feel it’s going to be the most incredible experience, a chance to grow personally and professionally in a way no other opportunity could provide. The more you learn about other places, the more you learn about yourself,” says de Brito, who graduated in December 2013 with a self-designed major in communication studies and deaf studies and a minor in Spanish. Although she has never been to Brazil, she studied in Chile while at TCNJ and backpacked through five other South American countries.

As a young child, de Brito experienced hearing problems and had tubes inserted into her ears, delaying her acquisition of language. “Maybe that’s what made me so interested in communication disorders. Once I got the hang of English, though, I was always writing, reading, trying to learn other languages. I also became interested in deafness and deaf culture.”

At TCNJ, she also discovered she loved teaching. De Brito began volunteering two evenings a week as an English teacher in Trenton through the college’s Bonner Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, spicing up her knowledge of colloquial Spanish.

She doesn’t speak Portuguese, the official language of Brazil—yet. But she’s listening to language instruction tapes and has contacted an organization in the Ironbound section of Newark, a center of Portuguese-American culture.

The Fulbright teaching assistant grant will require her to undertake a supplementary activity once she has her assignment. “I’m hoping to find a local school for the deaf and volunteer there, maybe set up game nights or teach English, or get involved another way,” says de Brito, who plans on going on to graduate school for a PhD in educational linguistics when she returns from Brazil. “My plan for the future is really loose, though my dream is to work as a speech pathologist with people who are brought up bilingual or otherwise challenged.”

—Mary Jo Patterson