By: Jeff Nazzaro

It was the time spent in UCR University Extension’s Intensive English Program (IEP)—and a little boost from a famous Oscar Hammerstein lyric—that upped her English-speaking game, and allowed everything else to fall into place.

As a member of the Youth Ambassadors and International Visitors Leadership Programs (IVLP) and as an author/publisher, educator, lawyer, mediator, and consultant, Laíze Lantyer Luz has traveled all over the world for conferences and speaking engagements.

A devoted lifelong learner, the tireless native of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, holds an undergraduate law degree from the Catholic University of Salvador (UCSal), an Environmental Law MBA from the Federal University of Bahia, a Professional Certificate in Sustainable Environmental Management through UC Berkeley’s Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program, and is two years from earning her doctorate from UCSal, where she also teaches law.

“But it was my experience in the Intensive English Program that had an amazing impact on my life. It was absolutely awesome because I could improve my English, as well as to prepare myself for the many, many opportunities I have been able to achieve since then because of my English,” said Laíze. She is a self-described lover of languages who, in addition to English and her native Portuguese, speaks Spanish and French. “This ability for me has been extremely important in my life; in the international law field and especially in the mitigation of conflicts, they appreciate this kind of ability.”

“…it was my experience in the Intensive English Program that had an amazing impact on my life.”

Growing up in Salvador, a city of nearly three million on the Northeast coast of Brazil, Laíze harbored a dream of one day studying abroad, and she knew the key to achieving that dream would be a firm grasp of English.

“I had this feeling inside of me that English would be extremely, extremely important for me,” she said. “And not only important, but the thing is, I was studying English and I was absolutely in love with the language, so I thought to myself, I just love and prefer to study this instead of math.”

Laíze’s self-motivation, self-learning instincts, and natural linguistic ability were vital traits for someone whose scant contact with English instruction came only in her public school. Private language lessons were very expensive in Brazil, and well beyond the means of her family.

But it was the late ’90s, US pop culture had spread around the globe, and the ambitious teenager had access to a constant flow of entertaining English. She loved American boy bands, the sitcom, “Friends,” and especially the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “The Sound of Music.”

Said Laíze. “I’m totally in love with that musical—this is the movie of my life.” Adding that she has even traveled to Salzburg, Austria, and not only because it’s the birthplace of Mozart, but also the home of the von Trapp Family singers who inspired the musical.”

“The Sound of Music is the movie and meaning of my life…”

The musical centers around the role of Maria von Trapp, made famous by Julie Andrews, who starts out in a convent before transforming and marrying into the von Trapp family. She comes to first know herself, then find her place, and make the most of her opportunity, all principles Laíze has lived and thrived by.

So, while waiting out yet another tropical rainstorm before her daily walk from school to her grandparents’ house in Salvador, Laíze saw a poster advertising the US State Department’s Youth Ambassadors program. The selection process involved an exam and an interview, with only a handful of students in the country eventually chosen, but Laíze was determined.

The night before her interview, she did what she always does before potentially life-altering events: she watched “The Sound of Music.” And then, right on cue in the interview, she borrowed a line from the song Maria sings when Captain von Trapp finally professes his love for her.

“The English teacher that was doing my interview, asked, ‘Tell me, why do you believe you should be selected as a Youth Ambassador?’” Laíze recalled. “And then I answered this question with a line from the movie: ‘Today I woke up, I was looking in the mirror and I thought to myself I must have done something really good to deserve it.’ This grammar construction was not very easy for someone who had never really studied English before. I can’t say I was selected because of the “The Sound of Music,” but somehow music and the arts have always helped me, and they have a connection in my life.”

“…music and the arts have always helped me, and they have a connection in my life.”

One of the connections that came through her acceptance into the Youth Ambassadors program was a full scholarship to Nebraska Wesleyan University, in Lincoln, to study journalism. It was a terrific opportunity, and one that Laíze initially embraced; the people were warm and welcoming, but after a semester in Nebraska, with a brutal midwestern plains winter setting in, she realized she simply was not in the right place for her.

“I feel that we first need to choose the place where we want to go and then select our opportunities,” Laíze learned. “It could be a 100 percent scholarship in California, for example, or New York or some other place. But being in a place where you have no connection—no connection to the environment—didn’t work for me. I gave up this opportunity. I wanted to do something else.”

On the advice of her mother, Laíze returned home and enrolled as a law student at UCSal. While studying there, the US State Department set her up with another opportunity: to study intensive English as a Second Language study at UCR University Extension. It turned out to be a very comfortable and rewarding experience. She would study with other students from around the world, and the Southern California climate was just right.

Laíze tested into the advanced IEP classes and excelled in all of them, earning her certificate with honors. She loved all her instructors and classes, but the Public Speaking course, taught by Karen Lindwall, was particularly memorable and meaningful.

“Public Speaking was so important in my life that during this class I made one of my big choices professionally,” Laíze remembered. “Because, at the time, I understood that being a teacher would be something I would love to do. This ability to speak in public, to deliver speeches, is something that I do a lot nowadays, not only as a professor but also as a lawyer, as a consultant for enterprises all over the world and also with arbitration. With international mediation of conflicts in general, this ability that I have proven to have, I discovered because of my class with Karen Lindwall. And I do remember every single exercise she gave us!”

“…the public speaking ability I have, I discovered because of my class in IEP with Karen Lindwall…”

This learning experience helped Laíze prepare for numerous speaking appearances, including as a representative of Brazil at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. And with help from US State Department grants accessed through her nomination to the Youth Ambassadors and IVLP, she has founded the nonprofit EcoWomen Project, which seeks to help integrate those on the margins into a reimagined circular economy, and the nongovernmental Environmental Education and Ecological Awareness Organization (PEACE). She is also researching, writing, and publishing through her Navida Consulting and Publishing company, all while teaching law and finishing her doctorate--after which the sky is the limit.

“I would love to have an opportunity as a visiting scholar, researcher or lecturer/professor,” said Laíze, who is particularly interested in returning to California to teach. She would also like to expand her publishing business, and publish more of her own books and those of others while expanding her projects such as EcoWomen and expanding connections through not only universities but also internationally in the arenas of environmental law and international conflict.

It’s a lot for anyone’s plate, but for Laíze, like for Maria von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” it’s all about continuing to grow through self-improvement and, most importantly, self-awareness, to find the place you need to be and the things you need to do.

“…the real challenge in life will always be to know yourself better…”

“I love traveling, for fun and work and study, but the real challenge in life will always be to travel to yourself, to know yourself better,” she said. “If you know yourself, your relationships will be better, your work will be better, your work connections will be much better. Family, friends, everything in your life will be better. That’s my heart’s goal.”

It’s wonderful to reconnect with our international alums. It’s easy to see why we are always in awe of them and all they accomplish, isn’t it? Thank you, Laíze, for taking your time to share your amazing adventures and heartfelt goals.

UCR University Extension alumna Laze Lantyer Luz Laíze Lantyer Luz
BA, Law, Catholic University of Salvador (UCSal)
MBA, Environmental Law, Federal University of Bahia
Professional Certificate in Sustainable Environmental Management, UC Berkeley Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program
PhD (in progress), UCSal
Graduate, UCR University Extension, Intensive English Program