Arriving at College of St. Joseph for higher education was no small feat for senior Keven Andrade. It took two years of paperwork and planning, a near 3,500-mile flight across the Atlantic Ocean, and a five-year "layover" in Pawtucket, R.I. before the CSJ men's soccer captain could become a Fighting Saint.
Andrade, a business administration major, is from Brava, Cape Verde.
Andrade was raised by his mother, who is a school teacher, during his childhood. Living in an island country ingrained in him a love for the water and swimming, but nothing could trump his country's obsession with soccer. The people of Cape Verde would play morning, noon and night if given the chance.
"I would wake up, and then play soccer from like 7 a.m. 'til 10:30, and then we would all go swimming, and then we'd get ready and go to school. Come back from school around 6:30 p.m. and go back to playing soccer," Andrade said.
He said there weren't enough classrooms for all age groups to attend school at the same time, so first through fourth grades would attend classes in the mornings, and fifth and sixth grades in the afternoons. At a separate school, seventh and eighth grades had morning classes, then ninth through twelfth grades would have their classes in the afternoon.
When Andrade turned 10, his parents spoke of the benefits he could reap by joining his father in the United States: a better education, more job possibilities and overall opportunities in life. His father, by then a U.S. citizen, started on the paperwork that would allow Andrade to live with him in Rhode Island.
Arrangements for the move, including paperwork for Andrade to be issued a U.S. passport, took time.
The plan was for Andrade to travel alone to the States with the help of flight attendants. Upon boarding the flight, a cousin of Andrade's (and a close friend of his father's) spotted the 13-year-old on the same flight that was bound for Logan International Airport in Boston. So, the two made the seven-hour journey and navigated Logan International together on Aug. 11, 2009, to reunite Andrade with his father in the United States.
Andrade's first three months in Pawtucket were, according to him, "weird" and not easy, although the city is home to a large community of Cape Verdeans. He would tell his dad almost every day that he wanted to go back to Cape Verde.
"It was hard. I didn't know the language so I felt alone. Lucky for me, my middle school had a lot of Cape Verdeans … but I didn't even know them, so I kind of missed my friends and I was used to my mom, so I would wanna go back," Andrade said.
He said he began feeling more adjusted after the difficult three-month period, and at that point he was starting to be able to form sentences in English. Watching Spongebob and other cartoons aided his ability to learn the language quickly.
"I joined a soccer club, too, so I learned more English from my teammates, but it was uncomfortable at first. But it also made me feel better, playing soccer, because when I'm playing I'm not thinking of anything else. I'm just focusing on the game, so it would free my mind a little bit," Andrade said.
It was as early as the six-month mark of his time in the U.S. that Andrade felt like he was getting good at English. Though at first he was upset with having to put off high school, he later realized how grateful he was for having the year of practice beforehand. Andrade entered Pawtucket's Shea High School in 2010, and it was that year on the soccer pitch that he met current Fighting Saints teammates Sergio Lopes, Willian Lima, Rosyvelt Baessa and Delcio Rocha.
The College of St. Joseph seniors, along with juniors Edson Ferrer, Hericles Tavares and Alex Andrade, have similar stories to Andrade in that they each grew up in areas of Cape Verde. The group of friends competed together for years at Shea before deciding to move to Rutland and attend CSJ to continue their playing careers together at the next level.
"Mentally we've learned a lot together and taught each other a lot of stuff," Lopes said.
"Our high school was one of the best teams in New England. And we were very respected, people knew who we were," Keven Andrade said. "Since we came here, we've improved every single year. Our record shows it, too. I think we're more experienced, more mature, we take things more seriously now. We have good chemistry with each other."
Lopes and Andrade knew each other in school in Cape Verde, though they were two grades apart, then. At CSJ, they've been roommates each year and, for the past two years, co-captains of the men's soccer squad. The seniors are approaching their final chance to cap a soccer season with a Yankee Small College Conference Championship, a feat they have yet to accomplish.
"It's sad, 'cause we've been playing together for so long. We talk about this all the time, especially me and Sergio. I'll tell him like, 'this is our last chance to win something together.' We'll probably play together again, but it will not be in a competitive, college level. It'll be like back home, Sunday league stuff. So I'm going to miss them and miss playing with them," Andrade said.
What was it that enabled the two, and their Cape Verdean comrades, to attend the small college in Rutland? The student-athletes received College of St. Joseph's Provider Scholarship. Each year, the level of aid the scholarship contributes to a student's cost of college increases. The requirements of Provider Program are to complete 15 hours of community service per semester, remain in good academic standing and participate in one campus activity. For Andrade, Lopes and their group of friends in Pawtucket the choice was clear: soccer.
The Fighting Saints have just clinched the number one seed going into the YSCC playoffs for the third consecutive year. Winning the conference title would guarantee College of St. Joseph a spot in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association's national tournament. Andrade, Lopes, Baessa, Rocha and Lima were key members of the 2015 CSJ men's soccer team that advanced to the USCAA tournament for the first time in program history. An invite this year would mark their third-straight year participating.
After his graduation in May, Andrade hopes to work in marketing, finance or accounting. He also plans on taking a trip back to Cape Verde to reunite with his old friends, reconnect to his roots and revisit a country that taught him lessons he holds dear.
"I got to experience how it is to grow up in a not-so-rich country. And that experience helps me here because I know how my country is, so I know what I want to be and not to end up back there. I have a better chance, I have a better life here," Andrade said.