Joseph Sousa has been a Portuguese teacher at Turlock High School for 11 years. Not only does he have a goal of teaching students the language, but he aspires to teach them about the nation’s roots and its rich culture. What’s one way to do it? By taking students, parents, teachers and community members on a trip to the country.
“I teach Portuguese here at Turlock High, and more than that, I'm very into my Portuguese culture,” Sousa explained. “My parents both immigrated from the Azores Islands when they were teens… Right here in the Central Valley of California, there's a huge, very, very strong Portuguese community. So when I started teaching here, it's important to me that not only do the students know the language, but it's equally as important, if not more important, that they know the culture.”
In 2019, through fundraising, Sousa and a group of 30 experienced Portuguese culture up close when they took the flight halfway across the world to visit the Azores and to the mainland, where they stayed for nearly two weeks.
“Years ago, students in my class at the Turlock Adult School thought it'd be so cool to do a Portugal trip,” Sousa said. “I agreed that'd be cool to do a Portugal trip for students, and I learned about all kinds of companies that put together these international trips… I started talking to a couple of teachers here on campus, and sure enough, they were all for it and we put together a trip in 2019.”
Last month from June 12 through the 24, a group of 17 took the same voyage in what is now being tabbed as “Sousa’s Portugal Trip.” And it’s not just Sousa’s students or Turlock High campus community members who tagged along. In fact, Pitman High students and families joined the fun last month.
Some of the students who took the trip to Europe this year included Pitman Hugh junior Marc Sousa, Turlock High junior Kealani Solis and her sister, sixth grader Faith Solis.
Kealani shared that her favorite experience was swimming in the crystal clear water in the city of Cascais. Her sister enjoyed experiencing the wide range of desserts, such as Macau egg tarts.
The sisters were accompanied by their mother, Kelley Coelho, whose birthday happened to fall in the middle of the trip.
“Fatima (home of one of the most famous Catholic shrines in the world) was really awesome, and it was just a really great experience because the visit actually fell on my birthday. We went to mass together that day, and to have a little birthday dinner with the kids was cool. It really meant a lot to be able to experience Fatima with my children,” Coelho shared.
The family also took some time out of one of the days to visit the homes of family members and ancestors.
“Our family is actually from Terceira, so it's really nice because I've never gone and me and my daughters actually got to experience it for the first time together, which was awesome,” Coelho said. “While we were there, we actually got to go to a lot of different family members’ houses. We also went to the house that my family owned, like my immediate family, like my mom, my grandparents… We found it and it was really awesome experience that and to take pictures there.”
Marc Sousa was joined by his mother, Connie, on the trip. Connie shared that she was most drawn to the dinner, which was accompanied by live fado music, a traditional Portuguese music that originated in Lisbon, where the group was visiting.
“I just loved sitting there, listening to the music. It was so peaceful and so intimate and really made me feel a connection,” Connie said.
Her son shared similar sentiments about the trip as a whole.
“All four of my grandparents are from the Azores, so that’s how I was treated at home. They brought that culture with them to the U.S., so to be there and see everything in person and to see places I’ve seen in movies or read about, it all started making sense to me,” he said.
“That’s the goal right there,” Sousa said. “I guess I succeeded. I want that experience for more students and for them to get out there in the world and see something else. There's so much to see and to appreciate. It's awesome to hear that. I love hearing that.”
The original plan for the trips were for them to take place every other year, starting with their first trip in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic put a fork in those plans when 2021 came around, but it’s still a goal Sousa has moving forward, already aiming for the summer of 2025.
“I pitch it to all of my students, but it's not limited to just my students. This isn’t part of any program with the school. This is outside and this is for anybody interested in learning more about Portugal and our culture,” Sousa said. “Like I’ve said, I want to share this beautiful culture with everyone, so we’ll check back in in 2025 and we’ll try to make it happen again.”
Additional information and photos from Sousa’s Portugal Trip can be found on the @SousasPortugalTrip Instagram page.