Professor overcomes challenges of teaching in second language


Andrea Garvey , American River College psychology professor and department chair , came from Brazil 26 years ago. Pictured here on Feb. 11 , 2020 , she was able to overcome the language barriers and succeed in her professional career and personal life. (Photo by Emily Mello)

Emily Mello

Brazil-born Andrea Garvey was just 22 when she moved to the United States to attend graduate school. Despite being an English as a Second Language student she faced a lot of challenges throughout her journey as a student and as professor.  

She came to study and live in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1999, she began teaching psychology at the California University of Chico in Northern California. 

“I started teaching at Chico and stayed there for three years,” Garvey said. 

After that, she moved to Sacramento in 2003, where she was hired to teach at American River College.

Garvey faced a lot of language barriers in the beginning of her journey as both a student and a professor. 

“My hardest challenge was to deal with the wounds left by my students for not seeing me as a qualified professor and a lot of them made fun of me because of my accent,” Garvey said.

Her adaptation was a short long term process, even now she is still adapting to the American culture.

“I was expecting to have this ‘discrimination’ for being the only latina in my graduate school by some teachers and some students,” Garvey said. 

It was (and still is) hard work to not internalize those negative experiences into your sense of self. But I keep on working on it, surrounding myself [with] people that I appreciate and who appreciate me for who I am.”

After a tough beginning, Garvey has now taught at ARC for over 17 years and she is also a department chair for the psychology department.   

In addition to her career, Garvey is married and has a 10-year-old son named Aidan, who was born in Sacramento. Although her son does not speak Portuguese very well, she says she still tries to teach him a little.

“When my son was 2 years old, his English and Portuguese still were at the same level but after he started attending kindergarten his English started to be the predominant language,” Garvey said.

She keeps teaching him a little bit every day even though she says he doesn’t like it much. 

She also does volunteer work at her son’s school and is part of the Parent-Teacher Association. 

Garvey said because she and her husband, Brian, live so far away from their family, it’s important for her to find connections within her community. 

“Being engaged in the community is very important to me because it comes like another family,” Garvey said. “Especially for my son, since he is a single child, this contact with other children is very important.”

Tori Bouvard, a psychology professor at ARC, has known Garvey since she was hired to work at the college. 

“She brought a huge amount of enthusiasm, knowledge and spunk to the department and to her students. I love the fact that she is a very good person to work with,” Bouverd said. 

Bouvard also emphasized that when online teaching was implemented over 15 years ago, Garvey was a very diligent co-worker who inspired her.

“She was very inspirational to me because she let me look at her classes and watch how she handles different things,” Bouvard said. “Her online presence is surprisingly the same as in real life, and I remember seeing her using emojis in her email. It was showing she was just being herself, she is amazing.”     

Despite the situation that Garvey went through in the past, she doesn’t want her students to have the same experience that she had. 

“All these little things matter! I hope it communicates to my students that I see them, that they do matter, that their success matters in whatever way they define success for them,” Garvey said.