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DIVERSE CITY

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Boarding a plane from Portugal to Ireland in 2008, Alice Martins Ruas was too young to comprehend the enormity of what was happening.

The seven-year-old's dad had been awarded a senior job on the construction of the M1 at Newry bypass and was moving his family from the southern Portuguese city of Sebutal to a new life in Northern Ireland.

Alice Martins Ruas. Photographs: NewRayPics.com
Our Lady's is opening doors towards a prospective future career in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Justive for Alice Martins Ruas. Photographs: NewRayPics.com

For the little girl, it was a huge adventure.

So she was surprised at the tears and hugs from family members at the departure gate.

''When I was seven, I didn't really understand the concept of countries, so when my dad came home from work one day and said we were moving to Northern Ireland, I was like 'oh, that's cool','' said Alice.

''It didn't register in my head that it was a different country. We were getting on the plane and my mum was crying and my granny was crying, and I didn't understand why they were crying - we were just moving house. I wasn't scared. I was kind of excited about moving.''

Upon arriving in Ireland, Alice quickly noticed a dramatic change.

Coats became a necessity.

And sunglasses were no longer required.

Alice plans to do a degree in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Justice.
Alice plans to do a degree in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Justice.

''I remember obviously that it was colder; we had to wear winter coats because we were freezing all the time,'' said Alice.

''I remember first seeing the radiators on the wall in our house and thinking that this was crazy because in Portugal you don't need radiators. You just buy a wee one that you plug in when you're cold. I remember looking at the radiators in the house and thinking 'what are these things?'

''Also, in our first house a milkman would call and drop milk at the door and I remember the first time I seen it I was like wow. I was fascinated by it.''

It was a far cry from the sun-kissed coast of Portugal.

But the cold climate was made easier by the warm welcome.

''We were made welcome here,'' says Alice.

''We were here two or three days when my mum took us looking for a school. She got speaking to man who told us to try St Joseph's PS in Newry. He said there were  kids from different backgrounds at the school. I've always felt welcomed here. Everyone is really helpful. I think my English is quite good and people maybe don't realise I'm from Portugal until I tell them and they're like 'oh, that's cool'.''

Alice is now a Year 14 pupil at Our Lady's Grammar School in Newry.

She is studying A-Level Maths, Spanish and Psychology and hopes to go to university later this year to do a degree in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Justice.

She still speaks Portuguese with her mum, dad and siblings.

And they still make traditional Portuguese cuisine on special occasions.

Retaining her heritage is of huge importance to Alice, though she senses the bond diminishes slightly as the years pass by.

''It was my first language,'' she said.

''I try to go over to Portugal every year, but that's just not possible because my brother and I have a job. I do notice when I go over that I'm different and they're different. The last time I went over I hadn't been over in two an a half years and suddenly I had short blonde hair and I had glasses

Alice at Our Lady's Grammar School.
Alice at Our Lady's Grammar School.

''Yes, I do find I'm drifting a little apart. It does make me sad to think me and my family in Portugal are drifting apart. They don't really know me, they remember me as this seven-year-old and I'm very different to when I was seven.

''So it is kind of sad, but at the same time the culture and nationality will always be there and I do try to hold on to that by speaking to my dad and mum in Portuguese and I have a few Portuguese books and sometimes I get a wee notion to read them. I listen to music in Portuguese sometimes to hold on to that.

'My dad sometimes makes crepes with the mince. We eat cod on Christmas Eve, another Portuguese tradition. My mum makes traditional Portuguese food at her house sometimes as well and we chat in Portuguese. It's important.''

Newry is also important to Alice.

And she said she is thrilled that her adopted home has made thousands of people from other nationalities welcome, just as she and her family were 10 years ago.

''There are more different nationalities living here and people from here are ok with that,'' added Alice.

''Out shopping, you see more different people and hear different languages and everyone is ok with that. I think it's really good.''

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