Rhode Island College junior Roniza Fortes is interning through the month of June in the Azores at the Hospital de Espírito Santo in Terceira Island, Azores, on a competitive Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.
Fortes, a nursing major with a minor in Portuguese, earned the Gilman scholarship for outstanding academic achievement and for her commitment to global study and experience, said RIC Associate Professor of Portuguese Silvia Oliveira.
Named after retired U.S. Rep. Benjamin Gilman, the program is designed to broaden the student population that studies and interns abroad by supporting undergraduates who might not otherwise participate due to financial constraints.
Award recipients are chosen by a competitive selection process and must use the award to defray eligible study or intern abroad costs. Fortes has also received financial support from the Institute for Portuguese and Lusophone World Studies at RIC and the Atlantis Project, a pre-med and pre-health internship program.
Born in Cape Verde, Fortes’ second language is Portuguese; however, she said she lost the ability to speak Portuguese once she moved to the United States at age nine.
In the summer of 2015, while working as a C.N.A. at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, Fortes soon rediscovered the importance of her second language.
“Patients were being admitted to the surgical unit of the hospital, many of whom could only speak Portuguese, yet most of the staff couldn’t communicate with them,” she said. “I would translate for the patients in my broken, but understandable, Portuguese, and it was then that I realized the importance of revisiting my second language. As a nurse, it’s important that there not be a communication barrier between me and my patients.”
That fall Fortes enrolled in Oliveira’s intermediate Portuguese course and in a new course sequence titled “Portuguese for the Professions,” also taught by Oliveira.
“In both courses she excelled,” Oliveira said. The goal of “Portuguese for the Professions” is to acquire professional vocabulary in one’s chosen field of study; for Fortes, the focus was on medical terminology.
Oliveira explained that students who complete the course sequence are encouraged to seek opportunities of international study and internships in a Portuguese-speaking nation, with financial support from the Institute for Portuguese and Lusophone World Studies.
“Roniza demonstrated that with careful planning and determination, RIC students can benefit from an international college experience, which can make the biggest difference in their lives, both personally and professionally,” said Oliveira.
Since arriving in Portugal on May 13, Fortes has been shadowing physicians at the Hospital de Santo Espírito da Ilha Terceira. When she’s not working, she has been spending time “exploring the beautiful island, learning the history of Terceira, sampling the traditional cuisine, such as ‘alcatra,’ ‘bacalhau’ and ‘cozido a portuguesa.’” She is also enjoying the traditional folk music and taking in popular tourist attractions, such as the Gruta do Natal, Algar do Carvão and Monte Brasil.
“So far, I am absolutely in love with this island,” she said, “and I’m looking forward to learning more about the Portuguese culture.”