Reason you chose this program: I chose this program because I wanted to enhance my Portuguese language skills and because I was very curious about the culture and history of Portugal it is not a country one hears much about, but it was once incredibly important and today is perfect for discovering.
Favorite classes: I truly enjoyed all of my courses -- history, language, and a reading class through CIEE, and a linguistics direct enrollment course. CIEE courses were wonderful in that students on the American program were mixed in with students from the rest of Europe. As far as my favorite classes, I would have to say it's a tie between history and linguistics. The history course (Contemporary Portugal: Politics and Culture) was taught in English by two Portuguese professors, both of whom were very sweet and showed genuine interest in their students. The linguistics course (Introdução às Ciências da Linguagem) was great because I got to test my language abilities and meet local students.
Advice to a future study abroad student: Where to begin? Take the bus, walk, explore, don't be afraid to reach out to people and also don't be afraid to do things by yourself, use common sense, make an effort with the language, master the supermarket, go to public gardens, do ordinary things like go to the movies, go easy on yourself, talk to your professors (after all they live there, so they will know the coolest places to go!), don't get caught up in the fever of "being in Europe" and flee to some other country every weekend.
Greatest challenge: Students at IU learn Brazilian Portuguese from mostly Brazilian professors, and so this is what I was familiar with when I arrived in Lisbon. However, the Portuguese are not Brazilians and Brazilian Portuguese is not European Portuguese. It took me a few weeks to adapt to the different dialect (what one Portuguese friend referred to as the "right" Portuguese), and at first the Portuguese seemed a little reserved and I always wondered if the person I was talking to even liked me or not. I just relaxed and observed locals and came to understand that however standoffish someone might seem, they are usually very friendly and warm. Their culture is different, their history is different, and they think and live their lives in a different language, but they are still people. Now that I'm back, I miss being surrounded by the Portuguese and their language.
Describe your experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock: Reverse culture shock was much worse for me than regular culture shock. You adapt very quickly and become very immersed in your new lifestyle when you move abroad, you become very close to the people around you and very invested in your city and country, and then to have it all suddenly 4,000 miles away again is heartbreaking. I missed home quite a bit when I first arrived in Lisbon, but then I reached a point when I realized that I needed to enjoy the time I had there. Now that I'm home, I integrate little bits of my Portuguese life into my day.
Best Memory: I have a few: the day trips I took to the towns of Óbidos, Nazaré, Alcobaça, Batalha and Fátima; another trip I took to the village of Palmela and Arrábida National Park; and anytime I was in Jardim da Estrela, a public garden about a 10 minute walk from where I lived. The garden is surrounded by this beautiful green wrought iron fence, and entering it is like stepping into another world. There is a little café there where I went almost every day after school. Also, this is going to sound strange, but I loved my morning bus ride to school. I was with the same set of people, on their own ways to work and school, almost every day, and Lisbon is simply beautiful in the morning.
Biggest surprise: I was surprised by the city itself, above all else. It didn't look like I had expected it to look. There were no skyscrapers -- the tallest building has, I believe, just over 30 floors. It's a big city, but not a metropolis like those in the American imagination. I describe Lisbon alternately as a "forgotten fairytale" and "faded glory ancient San Francisco." It's like something out of days gone by with a thin veneer of modernity cast over the top. It's a small town masquerading as a major European city. I came to love it just like this. I had a conversation with a friend once there, and she remarked that Lisbon has something very distinct about it -- you could take a picture of a random residential street in any European capital and, without any landmarks you might not know what city you were in, but if you took a picture of a Lisbon street, you would know that it was Lisbon right away.
What I wish I knew before I left: I wish I had known how much I would be responsible for. There wasn't as much support as I thought there would be from staff onsite, and had I known this I would have done a little more research as far as classes and how things worked in the city itself. I never had any trouble or "struggled" with anything in particular, but it always helps to know what to expect when you land somewhere. I sometimes felt like I was a little bit in the dark.
If I could do it over, I would... introduce myself to more people! There is an old cliché that the people you meet on your journey are the ones who make it worthwhile, and it's true. Don't be afraid to meet locals and the other European students. Don't just hang out with the other Americans on your program. If I could do it over, I would also explore even more than I did, see even more of Portugal.
Fact about Portugal that you think most people would be surprised to learn: Portugal is slightly smaller than the state of Indiana. One might think, "Okay then, probably boring, nothing much to do," but the truth is, Portugal is a big country in a small country package. UNESCO World Heritage sites, beaches, forests, plains, mountains, big cities, small towns -- it really has it all, and at a lower cost than the rest of Europe. Plus, the food is amazing! Their famous national dish is called bacalhau, dried salted cod imported from Norway that they have to rehydrate before they cook. It looks like a science experiment at first, but try it!
Advice to future study abroad participants: Step out of your comfort zone. When you enter a country you never thought you would visit, it’s time do things you never thought you would do too! Meanwhile, if you’re truly trying to experience the culture, befriend the locals. It’s good to have American friends, but the trip will be more fulfilling to have friends whose culture you’re experiencing. They can show you around!
What do you know now that you didn't know before you went abroad?I think, above all else, I learned what I was capable of. Looking back, I don't know how I figured out which bus to take to school, or how quickly I adapted to the language, or how I made it outside of the city and back on short trips. I learned a lot about Portuguese history, I learned what people on the ground there thought about things, mannerisms or traditions they had, but as I discovered the people and the places around me, I also learned about myself in equal measure. I learned that I am strong on my own, that I can think for myself and that I know how to use my independence. I also learned that I can make a really good veggie omelet, but that's another story.